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Mar 1st 2003

olympic spirit: sports or feminism

IN DEFENSE OF USA MEN’S HOCKEY

I am responding to the commentary of Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald, who in reporting on the recent Olympics, chose to shrug off the pure spirit of international competition and cloud her writings with an inappropriate message of feminism. Ms. Kaufman insinuated in her February 19 article that only team USA was composed of NHL players. She said these American men had no passion for what they were doing and she questioned if “they just weren’t good enough to win.” “After all,” she says, “they were sort of forced to come here by the NHL’s marketing gurus.”

Ms. Kaufman is accurate in saying that the US men’s team was a dream team, but her discussion has a tragic flaw: The US mens hockey team was one of six teams made up of NHL players in Nagano in 1998. This was, by far, a more even field than that of the women’s tournament. The surprises in this year’s Olympic Games were due to the most balanced men’s tournament in years. All those who have followed women’s hockey throughout its existence know the only teams with respectable national squads have been: 1) USA & 2) Canada. This became clear to the world audience through scores and highlights from these Olympics. The US women beat Japan 10-0. It doesn’t take a lot of passion to win a game like that (I think 8-0 is the official score at which you pull your goalie and put the water-boy in net). US women’s coach, Ben Smith, used the word “lucky” to describe team USA’s win over Canada in the gold medal game. I am not trying to belittle the women’s victory, but I find fault with Michelle Kaufman’s contrasting the US men’s loss and the US women’s win.

Ms. Kaufman made the erroneous inference that since team Canada’s women almost won the gold and they cried, they played with passion. She concluded that, since the US men finished sixth and didn’t cry, they didn’t care about the Games. In truth, these men may have been the most motivated ever to win the gold, since nearly every player had played on the team that won the World Cup a year and a half ago. They were also provided with the additional motivation of returning to an NHL season in progress and facing foreigners each night, who would undoubtedly cherish the bragging rights that come with an Olympic medal. For some Americans, like Mike Modano and Bryan Berard, this was their first Olympics. There were times in the US men’s games versus Canada and the Czech Republic that they dominated play. In fact, they outshot the Czechs 39-19. It should be noted that the Czechs went on to win the gold medal.

Ms. Kaufman also said, “maybe they just weren’t good enough to win.” This comment is totally inappropriate. These athletes are America’s Olympians. They should be treated with the same respect as others who train as hard. Every one of them has paid his dues in the junior hockey, college hockey, or minor league system. They are the best hockey players in the entire country.
She also says that they were forced to play in Nagano by the National Hockey League. Her article would lead us to believe the NHL pushed this exhibitionary tournament on the organizers of the Olympic games. In actuality, Olympic rules have allowed professionals to play since 1989. NHL rules have kept the players out until this year. The fact is, any American hockey-playing male would have loved to play in Nagano, and the players who did play for team USA had a choice to take a spot on the 23-man roster or not. They played for the love of ice hockey and the love of their country, wanting to prove something. Imagine how horrible it is for them to listen to all the television shows and newspaper articles saying they are the biggest bums in America. Ms. Kaufman should be ashamed of herself. She misuses her position of influence to irresponsibly deceive and demoralize her readers. She creates an inappropriate gender against gender issue with her trusting readers. I hope in 2002, the American public could open any newspaper and read a discourse giving evidence that the author has watched the games, or at least looked at the box score, instead of recording public sentiment as truth through shallow, slanderous reporting.

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