Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford got it right in his latest work entitled Canada. At one point, a father describes to his son what it was like growing up in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
"Sports were crucial," Ford wrote. "Nobody had anything else to be happy about."
While the economic situation is not nearly as dire today, there is a lesson to be learned here. There can be no question that the absence of certain sports interrupt the rhythm of daily life and what we have come to count on as Canadians. In some instances, we are robbed of what many of us are passionate about.
Here are two examples to discuss.
The NHL lockout is over and there is, without a doubt, lingering anger on the part of many fans who feel they've been disregarded by wealthy owners and players arguing over billions of dollars. Many observers contend that otherwise loyal patrons of the NHL will not return to support it, the intensity of their displeasure having become so inflamed.
That won't be the case in this country. And there is a reason for that.
Following NHL hockey is instinctual to Canadians and therefore a part of how we conduct our affairs as a people. We are team players and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames are the most identifiable brands in the country. We just plain miss them when they're not around.
"The existence of the NHL is something we've grown to expect as Canadians and there is a huge void when it's gone," figured Dr. Paul Dennis, who teaches psychology in the departments of kinesiology at York University and the University of Toronto.
'Uncomfortable with change'
Dennis was, for 20 years, the player development coach with the Maple Leafs and assisted the players with their professional and personal development.
"People are uncomfortable with change," Dennis reckoned. "They want what they are passionate about and they miss it deeply when it's gone.
"They will do almost anything to get it back and return to what is normal in their lives."
What that means is, in Canada, our collective passion for NHL hockey will be expressed immediately and the lockout, painful as it was, will become old and soon disregarded news. But on another front, the interruption of sport may have more lasting effects.
In the province of Ontario, extracurricular activities for students have come to a grinding halt in light of Bill 115, whereby the Liberal government has imposed collective agreements on its public and high school teachers. In many cases, as a form of protest, teachers are refusing to coach and supervise organized sports teams and it's the students paying the price.
"It's a travesty and much more important than the absence of NHL hockey," Dennis said. "For the students, this is about their development psychologically and socially as well as physically.
"Everyday sport gives students the opportunity to overcome obstacles and barriers. Because they cannot play on a team or be in a club, there will be a significant void in their lives and the losses in terms of their development may be irretrievable."
'An educational value'
Indeed, by cutting off access to the fields of play, the labour strife between the province and its teachers deprives young people of what many of them are passionate about. While they will continue to benefit from a classroom education, they are increasingly prevented from building on their physical and social literacy. This is an abnormal and dangerous situation and we've known it for a long time.
"Supervised and progressive physical education, largely by athletic sports, is an essential part of an educational system from infancy to maturity," said the revered R. Tait Mackenzie, a Canadian educator and sculptor in the 1920s.
"It has an educational value nothing can supplant."
The celebration of and the ability to play games cannot be replaced. In Canada, the fans will be drawn back to the NHL because, if they stay away, they are only hurting themselves.
Hopefully, the same will become true in Ontario schools. To continue to deny students extracurricular activities -- joyful things -- is a malicious business, the folly of which will soon become apparent.
The bottom line being that sport and our passion for it should not be interrupted.
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