By Rob Hardy

There are many ways to judge a society. This becomes an even tidier prospect if said society has their eggs in only a scant few baskets. And when we talk about in which baskets we put our eggs, this simply means examining where the majority of Canadians are focused, what they are thinking about, and the proportion of energy they put forth into certain activities.

Right now, we are in the midst of a nasty NHL lockout, one of which is threatening to eliminate an entire hockey season. Since our remotes might be getting some lighter use these days, this is about as good a time as any to give some pause as to just how the hell we spend our time. Far from approaching this from a moralistic point of view, it still might give us pause to step back and really see how crazy we might be getting about all of this.

Hockey has always been a huge part of the Canadian culture; something is always in the background whether in the off-season or on. Even those who don’t much care for sports know that The Maple Leafs are Toronto’s team and the Canadians are Montreal’s. Likely, most anyone would be able to point out the logos – symbols nearly as recognizable as the golden arches. For nearly a century, it is safe to say that the love of this sport has been inherently Canadian, and united most of the country in some strange way.

That being said, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, when such a strong central focus is poured into what is really just a game played by ardent professionals. It’s understandable why hockey, or other sports in general, draw people in.  For some it’s a genuine love of the game, for others it’s keeping in that game as an active spectator when dreams of going pro finally die, and for nearly everyone who watches it’s just an easy past time.

What has been boggling the mind lately, however, is that this group of fans doesn’t amount to just a minor niche but is actually reflective of what has become an outright obsession nation-wide.  And while this may be perfectly normal for a segment of the population, hockey mania is likely one of the top concerns of the average Canadian, eclipsing even that of political discourse.

The hockey arena today is built with the most modern infrastructure, composed of high ceilings, icy colours and choirs of voices singing anthems with an unflinching seriousness rarely witnessed otherwise. The domain of Hockey Night in Canada has become a present-day cathedral, hyped to the highest proportions of both patriotism and consumerism. With a stagnant economy and massive layoffs, especially south of the border where many of the teams are, most games are nevertheless stunningly packed to the rafters by the unerringly faithful.

Especially with the rise of social media, everyone has an opinion on the current disaster that is ensuing. The thing is it’s a disaster for those involved, if you can even call it that. That’s not to say that athletes shouldn’t be recognized for putting themselves on the line and making their owners rich in the process. But how soon this dispute is settled doesn’t affect our own bottom line, so why do we care so much?  Why are Canadians more interested in job negotiations involving hockey players rather than public teachers, where lowering job standards have a much bigger impact on the average worker?

Like most guys, I would’ve loved to be playing pro sports like football, but when that doesn’t happen, life goes on. It may be exciting when your team wins or Canada gets the gold, but at the end of the day we have to realize we do not personally profit from this acclaim. The typical “armchair quarterback” can get distracted by what others are doing, worrying more about someone else’s stats than his own. Does it matter how good a hockey team is even as the average Canadian slips further into obesity, a disease fuelled by their own inactivity?

Most of us can’t be in the pros, but there are still a lot of chances to be active yourself and directly impact your life and community rather than simply vicariously watch others have fun or live life. It’s a sad, silent and woefully incorrect implication that as we get older we don’t need to bother cultivating our own athleticism and stay competitive. Perhaps, it’s this need that causes us to mistakenly plug into sport voyeurism, as we settle into the sedentary, complacent middle-class.

Some of the latest news has been that now beer sales have been suffering, too. Hopefully, this means that television viewership has also declined, leaving us to enjoy the great outdoors instead while putting some time aside for a more civic-minded life, at least until the puck finally drops again. We should remember that a healthy, vibrant country means not only a diverse citizenship, but a diversity of interests and activities – people actively working towards things such as social justice and preserving the halls of academia, lest we somehow slip back into some sort of  neo-dark age.

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