Today was the first day of the new semester, the first day of my new year. (I have no truck with January. Mid-winter isn’t a good time for me to start anything.)
Maybe it’s because of that newness, the ripple of uncertainty over and under everything–and today was so very much that–but today feels like a good–not good, but fitting–day to face front. So I’m turning this, which was, until five minutes ago, an e-mail to a very close friend, into a post, for better or worse.
What am I afraid of, right now?
In ways that have nothing to do with my usual pile of writerly insecurities, I am afraid of when the media finally gets to Evgeni Malkin and asks him about what he thinks about the Russian anti-gay propaganda law that’s turned the run-up to the Olympics into even more of a gut-twisting spectacle than before (before the inevitable human rights violations had a name and number and legal code). After Ilya Kovalchuk’s response today, I tread the internet carefully, but today’s news about Evgeni Malkin is this marvelously affable spectacle. Still, so far, 2/3 of the Russian stars asked what they thought have said they’re in favor of the statute, to one degree or another. The third, Alexander Ovechkin, chose the only other option, which is to say “I’d rather talk about hockey” and evade the matter altogether. (Several good reads on the general subject are here, here, here, and here, and many, many more, of course, are out there.)
I understand that there’s no particularly good option for the players on the Russian national team who might actually stand with GLBTQ rights or at least with the stance of the NHL/NHLPA/You Can Play partnership. Under the dictates of the law, actually saying anything other than the above two options could be found in violation of said law. I also know that Russian culture is what it is, and we’re all products of our culture to some degree. The law is popular in Russia. I should have no expectations that my favorite hockey player should be any different than the significant majority of his country.
But I do. Maybe I blame American exceptionalism–even my chosen-favorite-beloved-wearer-of-a-coordinated-shirt-and-shorts ensemble should be different, superlative, heroic against overwhelming odds. Maybe I blame escapism: if I dealt better with the actual world, sports and the people who play them wouldn’t mean so much to me. Maybe I blame my own selfish worry: what if my favorite player says, “No, I don’t think you are deserving of the same freedoms and rights of expression everyone else has”? It’s personal. The personal is political is personal. I don’t have to have met someone for that to be true because ideology and philosophy have very real, very tangible effects. (This is news to no one.)
Other fans have already had to deal with this–not just in this particular historical moment, but every time a public figure falls from grace and we have to make the decision: stay or go? That’s not a choice I want to make, but I know what I’d choose, and there’s that selfishness again: I’m broken up over what it would cost me. My fandom, my laundry, my favorite too-expensive, named-and-numbered sweater. But I’d always rather give up pleasure than self-respect, which includes voting with my esteem, my attention, and ultimately my money. Even if no one else notices or cares, I do.
I’m a wreck over hypotheticals. That’s not fair to some professional athlete whose real job is to be good at hockey. And I’m an optimistic person–I want to believe the best about people, particularly about those I admire, no matter the reason. I want to think, however Pollyannaish it may be, that human beings will default to being generous with each other. I think, also, though, of Sherlock Holmes: if I’ve painted over things with too rosy a brush, I’ve set up my own disappointment, and I have no right to expect otherwise.
A ray of hope I have is a tweet from the You Can Play Project which says they’ve had support from some Russian NHLers who have not been able to support the initiative publicly for a variety of reasons (their own legal protection and consideration for their families likely included, which are good reasons). It saddens me to think that what I’m hoping for most (in an attempt to actually be realistic) is silence, no comment, let’s talk about hockey, from a whole slew of Russian players and athletes. It troubles me to think what kind of meaning I’d imbue that with, too, but this is hope against hope. This is back to wishing, always, for what is kindest, and expecting that, even to the point of seeing it where it isn’t. It’s a disservice to everyone.
I’m not entirely sure what I hoped to achieve with this post. Usually I have some idea. Tonight, all I can think is that if I name the fear and whatever reasons I have for it, it will go away. I know, however, that’s never actually true for me. Saying it out loud doesn’t help. There aren’t many cases where I feel better for having shared. But maybe someone else is having the same worry, and at least we can feel fearful and ridiculous together.
I don’t know.