To Guide and Direct
January 31st, 2008 by Sonja

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter’s hockey team played a double header on a Saturday afternoon. We had just enough time between games to take the team out to lunch at a local grill. We played a fairly local team from just south of here which we are well matched against. Everyone anticipated some good hockey, hard play and tough skating. There were all of those, and then there were hard knocks, rough language and downright bullying on the ice from the other team. We weren’t anticipating the latter. It spun our girls off balance for a good portion of the first game. Tempers flared, emotions spun and flew and a stick even waved once or twice.

The other team was significantly larger in stature than our team. This is not usually a problem. But it soon became clear that they had a significantly different standard of play than we do. Something was not adding up. Girls who usually skate well and keep their feet were on the ice often. Our team captain took a particularly hard check and was told to, “Stay down, b*tch!” as she lay prone on the ice.

Stay Down B*tch

We lost that first game, 2-1. We took the break, had lunch and refocused the girls on their task … play excellent hockey. CoachWonderWoman gave them excellent advice, “Pretend that the other team is speaking a foreign language and you can’t understand what they’re saying. The power of an insult is carried in it’s result … if you don’t respond, there is no power in the insult.” The team pulled it together after that in an amazing way. The insults had no power over them. The hard knocks continued, but tempers stayed in check. They maintained and they won the second game by one point.

It was a hard, hard day. It was difficult to watch as a parent. There were some brutal hits taken and our goalie was out for the following week with deep muscle bruising from the slashing she took. Hockey can be a rough game and I knew that when LightGirl signed up for it. But it can also be played with finesse, skill and especially good sportsmanship. Good sportsmanship was not in particular evidence that Saturday afternoon.

The girls have moved on since then, the parents have been processing. There has been discussion about whether or not to file an official protest concerning some aspects of the games. I’ve been doing some of that writing. Concensus has gathered around the idea that much of the responsibility for the atmosphere at both games lies with the officiating and with the coaching for the other team. We’ve been considering whether or not to officially complain about the lack of proper officiating at the games and in particular the first game. If proper sanctions been levied against the other team for some of their behavior, some of the injuries to our team might not have happened. Certainly, the excellence of play would have been more evident.

As I’ve been writing and preparing the formal complaint, I’ve also been reading the official rules of hockey. This has been a new education for me, which has been interesting in and of itself. But I was very interested to read the preamble to the rules:

The goal of USA Hockey is to promote a safe and positive playing environment for all participants while continuing to focus on skill development and enjoyment of the sport. All officials, coaches, players, parents, spectators and volunteers are encouraged to observe these “Points of Emphasis” when participating in the sport of ice hockey.

Fair Play and Respect
Fair play and respect are the backbone of any successful amateur sports program. In order for a positive environment to be created, it is imperative that all participants and spectators have respect for all players, coaches, officials administrators, spectators and the sport of hockey. Hockey is a game demanding high levels of concentration and skill.
Intimidation or “bullying” has no place in ice hockey. Any act that includes taunting or teasing of players, coaches, officials, or spectators by means of verbal ridicule, obscene gesture, threat of physical violence, or physical violence itself will not be tolerated at USA Hockey events.
Players are encouraged to develop a deep sense of respect for all (opponents and officials) while endeavoring to enjoy the sport and improve their playing ability. Each player is encouraged to use proper skill and technique when engaging in any type of body contact.
Coaches are responsible for instructing their players to play the sport in a safe and sportsmanlike manner. To that end, coaches are directed to teach only those skills necessary to allow for proper and legal body contact.
Officials should be diligent and confident when officiating the sport. Each official should enforce the playing rules fairly and respectfully.
Spectators are encouraged to support their teams while showing respect for all players, coaches, officials and other spectators.

The whole point of officials and coaches is to make the game safe, enjoyable and a learning experience for everyone. This ain’t pond hockey. It’s about winning, but more than that, it really is about how you play the game. The officials and coaches are there to ensure that a healthy, safe and positive environment is maintained for all players … not just the winning players.

I’ve been thinking about that lately for many reasons. But it came up especially yesterday as I stumbled into a brand new world. I was looking for a word that I couldn’t locate in my organic random access memory, so I Googled around to find it anyway. I found the word, and along the way I found this article – Grief Without God, by Carol A. Fiore. Ms. Fiore is a widow and an atheist. Her husband was a test pilot who died in a flight accident eight years ago. The article recounts the 36 days he spent in the hospital before he died and her experiences with people of faith during that time. To be blunt, they were not positive:

Before I arrived at the hospital just hours after the accident, Eric had been given the last rites by a Catholic priest. On whose authority? During the entire time I lived at the hospital I heard the following comments over and over: “God has a plan”, “God never gives us more than we can handle”, “Put your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” One respiratory therapist even told me that unless I prayed for Eric, he would die. She’d seen it happen before, she repeated. When the family doesn’t pray, the patient dies. Almost without exception, every single person who visited, called, or sent cards said the same thing “I’m praying for your husband.”

After Eric died I heard the same statements but with a new even more infuriating one thrown in: “He’s in a better place.” What place? He was dead! I can assure everyone that Eric loved life, his family, his job. There was no better place for him than right here. And what of God’s plan? Did these people really believe that their God was watching Eric, out of all the beings in the universe? If so, why didn’t he answer the prayers of more than half the city of Wichita? If there is a God and he has a plan, maybe this is what he was thinking:
Gee, I think I’ll cause a really great guy to crash on takeoff. He’s a test pilot who tries to make the skies safe for everyone, but just for fun I’ll cause the jet to stall, plow into the runway, and catch fire. Then, just to torture the wife, I’ll make her watch the test pilot suffer horrible injuries and burns for 36 days. Then as the final blow, I’ll make sure the small children are present at the moment of death so their lives will be screwed up forever. I will ignore their pleas not to let their Daddy die because hey, I’m God and I can do whatever I want.

I’d really encourage you to read her entire article. It is quite moving and her tribute to her husband is loving and beautiful. More than that, Ms. Fiore raises important questions about the nature of God and the nature of evil in the world which are not easily dismissed with platitudes and euphemisms.

As well, the way she was treated and the easy manner in which people of faith slipped God into a conversation with someone so obviously and decidedly uncomfortable with faith at a time when she was fragile and vulnerable teeters on the thin edge of being abusive. One can certainly look at this behavior and see spiritual manipulation afoot.

So, I’ve been thinking about the parallels between the physical bullying I saw on the ice that Saturday afternoon and the spiritual bullying we often participate in during life events. We think we’re justified because “souls are at risk.” But are they? What is our justification? Is this a game that we should win at all costs? What if our spiritual bullying ends up causing some to choose death? Have we won? Or lost? Who won in this case and who lost … really. Think about that for a minute. We are so caught up in our zero-sum games in our culture that we cannot conceive of a different outcome or a different kind of game.

As is the case with my daughter’s hockey team, it is the responsibility of the leaders and officials to guide and direct us into “fair play” and sportsmanlike behavior. We all need that in order level the playing field and create a positive environment for everyone. You are likely thinking to yourself that that sounds a little hokey right now. But consider this, the second commandment is to what? The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. We cannot continue playing zero-sum games and love others as we love ourselves, the two things are mutually exclusive. So we need leaders and officials who will teach us a new way to love others. Who will help us to define it. Then help us to carry it out.

It will not include platitudes, false hope, dishonesty or manipulation.

3 Responses  
  • Pistol Pete writes:
    January 31st, 20088:58 amat

    You are a braver parent than I am. I can’t imagine my daughters playing hockey. I cringe just watching them play kickball.

  • Peggy writes:
    January 31st, 20083:35 pmat


    First off, Dr. Mom says stock up on Arnica and Bellis for those bruises…. :)

    Then, you hit right where I live, sister. We need all our leaders to step up to right behavior…because whatever they do, others will think is okay to do.

    I’d better stop there 😉 …trying to conserve my energy :)

  • Patrick writes:
    January 31st, 20086:13 pmat

    Thanks for this. My mom spent a lot, a lot of time in the hospital growing up (polio) and she really has very bad memories of a lot of the “spiritual” people there.

    What’s especially interesting is that just today I was writing (new book has begun!) and the scene is in a hospital. Two friends, one had been shot during a robbery. The risk for platitudes is great. I have one character, who had lost her daughter in a car accident, bring up Psalm 88 instead. Then they talked about Joseph. It’s hard though, not to get to the platitudes. Christianese is a very natural and easy language.

    Thanks for helping me stay grounded today. Exactly what I needed to hear.

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