Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Language of the Locker Room

In Montreal, many people see the home hockey team, the Canadians as a nearly religious symbol. In fact, the University of Montreal is even offering a theology course on this subject. So, when the coach of the Montreal Canadians is fired, it's not too surprising that it becomes bigger news than hurricane Katrina was.

It's also not surprising, given that this is Quebec, that the linguistic abilities of a replacement coach becomes a hot-button issue. Though most commentators seem to agree that it's more important to have a hockey team that wins than to have a bi or multilingual coach, and though the team's general manager has indicated that he would prefer a bilingual coach to a unilingual one, the French language press repeatedly notes that the main contender for the position, speaks only English and that this, is a strike against him.

The last thing anybody should care about when choosing the coach of a hockey team (with players from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe and in a league whose lingua franca is English) is the language he speaks. The first consideration should be, can he make a team win. If the coach is unilingual in Dutch but can lead my favorite hockey team to victory, he (or she for that matter) is the one for me. It's so frustrating that the ugly politics of language has to rear its head in a game that and surrounding a team that people who speak all languages are passionate about. Those who would complain about a hockey coaches first language must truly live charmed lives. It must be wonderful to have this be the most important issue in your life.

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