Notice how the sports pages are devoid of articles about political protest at professional sporting events? It's not that protest isn't happening there, it just isn't reported on. I should know. I'm a Hurricanes fan and one of at least three in-game protesters.
This strange tale began when my daughter and I learned to play hockey during the NHL lockout. We began to play hockey in order to protest the war in Iraq (this is a long story that I will not get into here). Have you noticed how President Bush's approval ratings have steadily gone down in the last year-and-a-half since our hockey-playing-protest started? Playing hockey during the NHL lockout led to playing hockey after the lockout ended. This past winter, my daughter, WJ, was the only girl playing for the Raleigh Youth Hockey Association Mini-Mites. She had a goal in her first two games with the Penguins. This alone lowered the president's approval rating by at least three points.
My daughter's first goal was a sneaky shot at the last possible minute as she turned the corner around the last remaining defenseman (defenseboy, really). The goalie thought she was going to skate behind the net when she unleashed her left-handed, snap-wrister, girl-power shot on his unsuspecting boy-goalie world.
This was made all the sweeter by the comment in the locker room before the game by one of the opposing players as both teams put on their small mountain of protective gear. The youngster, apparently not having seen a girl play hockey before, nodded his head at WJ and said to his dad in a loud voice: "What is she doing here?"
The story would be better if the goalie WJ scored on was this same kid, but I have no idea whether he was. Coach Jim saved the puck and inscribed it to my daughter with the date, team, his signature and "WJ's first goal."
Some people think I'm obsessed with hockey: NHL hockey or adult beer-league recreational hockey or kids' hockey. Any hockey. My dream for a perfect New Year's hockey Eve actually came true, too. My wife suggested that we all go to the Canes game together, as a family, for the late game against the Montreal Canadiens. In the week before the game I wondered if she hadn't been joking. Ha-ha. Are you kidding? Go to a hockey game for New Year's Eve?
It actually came to pass. When the day arrived, we piled into the station wagon and headed down the Durham Freeway for a night of hockey. Before the game, we stood in the packed arena and sang "O Canada" and then cheered loud and long. We listened respectfully as the "Star Spangled Banner" was sung. When it ended, my jokester of a wife repeatedly and very seriously yelled "Stop the war! Stop the war! Stop the friggin' war!!!"
My wife's banshee scream of "Stop the war!" after the national anthem kept bubbling up in my mind. Guilt, as it so often does, moved me to action. She inspired me to plan and carry out the second anti-war protest at a hockey venue in North America. On Military Appreciation Day at the RBC Center, a Sunday matinee against the lowly St. Louis Blues, I brought out our much-used sign protesting the war in Iraq. On the Sunday afternoon designed to thank our troops for their sacrifice, WJ and I walked from the parking lot to the arena and passed the buses that had brought troops in from Fort Bragg and other local bases for the game. On the lawn just outside the entrance to the arena stood a hulking, black, attack helicopter with machine guns at the ready and assorted field artillery canon. (Apparently, the troops outside were given orders to allow the Canadian team into the building.)
Just inside the RBC doors, we passed through a metal detector with the throngs of young men with their short-short G.I. haircuts all holding discounted tickets. The security staff eyed my car keys suspiciously, but overlooked our folded cardboard sign. As we took our regular seats in section 123, up and to the right of the south goal, the Jumbotron tributes to our troops had begun.
It was a bit intimidating holding the sign while the crowd roared in response to every videotaped thank you to the troops from players and coaches. "Bring Our Troops Home," our sign read. The writing was slightly cursive in red and blue magic marker with Leelo's and WJ's drawings of homes and kids along the borders. I held it up in the air occasionally during breaks in the hockey action. Most of the game our sign sat on top of the seat next to us, visible to at least some fans in our section.
Our protest didn't make the Jumbotron or the sports page. I received some odd and disapproving looks during the game, but not one hockey fan who passed by to buy popcorn or a hot dog made a comment to me.
But enough about hockey-based protest. In those glorious moments, when you are skating on a break-away toward the goalie, or watching your first-born child score her first goal in a real game, or cheering your favorite team to a come-from-behind victory in game seven of the Stanley Cup finals, there is no doubt that hockey saved the world.
Let's go, Canes!