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No Gay in the Life of Pavel Datsyukian PDF Print E-mail
Written by Paul Heno   
Monday, 07 March 2016 16:43
Once in a long while comes a hockey player whose skill and grace touch a level of distinction that reaches for lore. It is as if he was born on the bench, his father, once more unto the breach with that first pair of skates. But innate ability is only part of the story and devalues the atypical amount of practice required to achieve such a level of excellence. It is the rare union of uncommon talent and eager dedication to craft. 

Over the last decade plus, it is unlikely that anyone has brought hockey fans to their feet more often than Pavel Datsyuk. With a wink to the puck genius of Patrick Kane and a nod to the magic of Johnny Gaudreau, Datsyuk`s coolness with the puck, the deft feel of his hands, the manner in which he befuddles opponents, may be without parallel in the history of the game. He has shown moves that hockey fans have never imagined, much less seen. The great hockey orator, Danny Gallivan, might have described them as Datsyukian. 

To those who appreciate hockey for its fundamental skill and beauty, for those who would gladly forego the fighting and intimidation that counters the objective of the game, Pavel Datsyuk is an irreplaceable icon. He moves quietly through the noise, a wisp whose presence is more sensed than seen. He is an artist whose work would, were his stick a brush, be hanging in the Louvre or the Prado or the Hermitage, or in any of the transcendent places where great masters gather. He is that special player who draws fans to the arena in anticipation of that next moment of brilliance. In so doing, he gives the lie to the notion that the splendour of hockey cannot stand on its own, that it needs the circus claimed by the promoters of violence.

It is sad to learn then that the great Datsyuk, the soaring sprite who floats beyond the mayhem, the very symbol of what hockey should be, is homophobic. If he were a thug, an intimidator, a brute, his antipathy towards gays might be more comprehensible. He might then feel compelled to defend his manhood against something as threatening as homosexuality. But in a sport which often seems more suited to the Coliseum, Pavel Datsyuk more resembles the performing arts. Prejudice doesn’t come in neat packages. 

Here is a little context to help explain what may be up with Pavel Datsyuk. If you thought there was no room to slip a dîme between the Western Catholic Church and the right- wing wall, you were wrong. More reactionary than even the Papists, the various versions of the Eastern Orthodox Church are just as intolerant and capable of hate as their long-lost but little-loved Roman brethren.  Were they medieval lords, Holy Roman Emperors, Ivan and other tsars, Mussolini, Franco, Latin American generals, African strongmen or lately, Vladimir Putin, the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches have historically collaborated with politicians and oppressors alike to restrain and terrify the population.

No matter what can be gathered by looking into the eyes of Vladimir Putin, he is above all an autocrat; the most recent in a long line of despots who have ruled Russia since its inception. For those Russians, and those fans of Russia who were hoping that Putin would embrace the liberalization introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev or follow in the unsteady but democratic footsteps of Boris Yeltsin, the disappointment is crushing. Vladimir Putin, the bully committing infanticide against the fledgling Russian democracy, has muzzled political dissent and shut down any semblance of freedom of the press. Brave Russian journalists and ballsy opposition leaders die at an alarming rate, their murders mostly unsolved. If not assassinated, after noisy show trials potential rivals and general rabble rousers are jailed, denounced as enemies of the state. Russian agents lurk in foreign shadows ready to add a little polonium to the tea of troublesome ex-pats. Disagreement that would be called political discourse in a modern democracy is treason in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Faux elections are offered up as proof of choice, though they return the same rigged results as those seen in other bastions of democracy such as Myanmar, Zimbabwe, North Korea and Florida.  

The first page of the authoritarian playbook counsels tyrants on the need for scapegoats and collaborators; the former, a distraction, a visible symbol to absorb the blame of failed policies, to inflame uber nationalism or to keep the people from noticing that the rulers are not wearing any clothes; the latter a fig-leaf of legitimacy from a feared trusted institution. Better still if that cowardly cover is an organization equally adept at misinformation and deception. For Vladimir Putin, that would be the Russian Orthodox Church.

After decades of wandering the frozen gulag of the former Soviet Union, the xenophobic, reactionary Russian Orthodox Church had a lot of pent-up hatred. It too was looking, searching for a modern-day saviour to restore its status in the new Russia. In the messianic Russian president, the Church found its man. These queer bedfellows, the bearded patriarch of Russian Orthodoxy and Vladimir Putin, the devout Christian, nee godless communist, suited each other’s causes. The Church, as usual, favouring status and power over morality and decency, aided and abetted their temporal leader. It proselytized for Putin`s expansionist policies in embattled eastern Ukraine, causing a schism within the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine. And, on behalf of its reticent God, the Patriarch gave his blessing as Vladimir Putin decreed that gays and lesbians be stripped of human and civil rights. 

Incredibly, the Russian Orthodox Church views homosexuality as an existential scourge. It’s passing strange that a group whose raison d’être is tied to an entity whom no one has seen, whose very being cannot be proved and is rightly doubted, should think that gays are an existential threat. They might want to do a little soul searching and review their dubious sources before they venture into the real world.

Being loathed, ridiculed and attacked is nothing new for the homosexual population. Long before they were paradoxically called gay, homosexual persons had been on the receiving end of hate. If they prospered or were tolerated before the Common Era, gays began a long, sad and steady decline with the preaching of Paul. Though Christianity as a religion didn’t exist at the time of Paul, he was the most important of all Christ’s evangelists. He saw much hope in the words and work of Jesus, yet his interpretation of Christ was deeply affected by his own austere and unfulfilled life. Without Paul, Christianity would not have spread as it did, but he promulgated a mixed message; open to heretics and to questioning, conflicted about flesh. As Paul’s audience became the followers of Christ and evolved from Judaism to Christianity, they carried with them the Jewish notion of sin. Sex was a particular target. All sex outside of heterosexual coupling for procreation was shameful and against God. The idea that sex could be pleasurable was forbidden. Naturally, much of the heterosexual population paid little heed to such nonsense. Christianity, (far from a cohesive movement in its early days or since), fearing its very existence, turned a half-closed eye to peripatetic peckers and ballroom bliss. It would be damned however, if it was going to accord any such favour to faggots who did nothing to swell the flock. 

So it is that two of the most powerful institutions in the largest land in the world, the government and the Church, have declared open season on undesirables, including if not especially, homosexuals. Too many Russians have answered the clarion call. The danger to gays in Russia is clear and present. They are regularly taunted and assaulted by extremists and violence seekers. Homophobes troll gay websites luring lonely gay prey to their lairs where they are waylaid by gangs of bashers. Weapons to their heads, gays are forced to announce to the camera, to the world, that they are homosexually oriented. They are made to dance like puppets to the amusement of their tormenters. They are ordered to stand still while buckets of piss are poured over their heads. They are routinely outed and routed in the streets, fists and boots pounding the gayness if not the life out of them. The police and the courts engage in `wilful blindness`. Gays who can, flee the country, hoping that somewhere in Europe or North America, they can find safe haven. Those who stay do what they can to avoid the mob. They live scared, underground and unfulfilled; stretching the limits of what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.”

Is this then what Pavel Datsyuk believes - that gays should be hunted, hurt and humiliated? If Pavel Datsyuk doesn’t want gays on his line or in the dressing room, where should they go, besides away? If he doesn’t see an earthly place for gays, does he fall back on the old religious canard that those who suffer most in this life will be rewarded in the next? The dogma of the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t allow for homos in heaven. So should gays go directly to hell to spend eternity wailing and recanting? Or, not of this world or the next, should they wander forlorn and forever – as in the haunting scene from “La Vie est Belle” where Guido guides his son through the forbidding fog of the Nazi camp nightmare?

Perhaps and hopefully, Pavel Datsyuk gave an unconsidered answer to a question he was not expecting. Perhaps, he has not a bigoted bone in his body. Perhaps, he just washed his hands of the matter by explaining that he didn’t have a choice, that his belief is that of the church and the god that he worships. It is a tenet of religious faith after all to accept without questioning. The apostle Thomas was chided for seeking visible proof of the resurrected Christ. 

Surely Pavel Datsyuk knows which way the wind is blowing in Russia where he might well reside when his playing days are over. He does not want to be at odds with his neighbours or the state. He does not want to be known as a gay sympathizer. In a country where dissent is mostly unwelcome and severely punished, Pavel Datsyuk does not want to stand out or stand up. Joe McCarthy comes to Russia. 

More than twenty-five years after resolute rebels like Igor Larionov and Slava Fetisov defied the dehumanising practices of Victor Tikhonov and the greater Soviet Union to help bring change to Soviet hockey and the country, Pavel Datsyuk cannot show the palest of courage in a question of basic human rights. Maybe he does believe that gays are apocalyptic enemies. 

Gay rights are increasingly common in Western Europe and most of North America. But, along with Russia, that is certainly not the case in much of the world. The followers of two of God’s shrillest servants, the odious Pat Robertson and the late, loathsome Jerry Falwell, having largely lost the gay battle in the U. S., are into Africa to spread God’s word to the natives. (Perhaps the locals should dust off the super-sized cauldrons their ancestors used to heat-up whenever the early missionaries came to dinner.) Bibles in hand, these good Christian folk are but hearts of darkness preying on the desperate. They use their ill-gained influence to convince local authorities to pass laws outlawing homosexuality. Being gay in some parts of Africa may bring life in prison or a death sentence. In many Muslim countries, gayness may cost you your head. Across the Atlantic in Latin America, many parents (read fathers) blinded by religion or machismo, cannot accept a gay child, especially a gay son. No matter the love that existed before the reveal, it’s out to the streets with them. 

So while significant strides towards gay acceptance have been made in western democratic societies, team sports continue to be a void. Borrowed from the U.S. Military, it’s don’t ask, don’t tell. And hockey dressing rooms are as lonely and forbidding as those of other sports. Happily, some NHL players, including Sidney Crosby and Dustin Brown, have extended a public welcome. The Burke family, led by father Brian and son Patrick, themselves touched by personal tragedy, are doing admirable service in making sports more accepting of gay athletes. Sadly, it is unlikely that the sublime Pavel Datsyuk will ever change his views on homosexuality. He is, after all, a man of faith. But others have and more will. It will get better.

It is certain that somewhere, maybe even in Russia, there are young, gay hockey players sweating in their bedrooms, afraid and alone. They are fearful of having their sexuality discovered, their lives ruined. All the contortion, doubt and pain summed up in the words, of Joni Mitchell, “Tears and fears and feeling proud/ To say I love you right out loud.” 

These young people may be stars in the making or never play beyond fun leagues but they enjoy hockey. They are wondering if they have a place in the game, in the locker room, in the understanding of their teammates and opponents. They have become inured to the comments and taunts they have heard since forever, things they may have even said themselves to throw others off the scent. They are not deterred by the isolated slur screamed in anger; rather ask the daily empathy of those around them. In all ways, except for sexual proclivity, they are no different than their buddies. They don’t want special favours or a separate dressing room. They want a warm stall on a cold night and a fair chance to play.

November 2014  Paul Heno Copyright

Last Updated on Monday, 14 March 2016 04:27

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