Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Darren Pang, With the Most Unfortunate Verbal Gaffe Ever

In case you missed it, this is Darren Pang from last night on TSN. In the clip, Pang lands perhaps the most unfortunate slip of the tongue since that time Lorraine Baines tried to park with Marty McFly, when he compares Alex Pietrangelo's quiet class to P.K. Subban's chirping, declaring that Pietrangelo plays "the white way."

Obviously, he meant to say "the right way." I feel terrible for him. I'm laughing a little too, of course. But it's a gentle laughter.

Now I've been holding my tongue on the P.K. Subban issue, but I'll take this opportunity to talk about it (sorry, Panger). The furor around P.K. Subban isn't going to go away. First, because P.K. Subban is a very, very good player, and second, because Subban is a completely different breed of hockey personality. He's flashy and arrogant in a way few are, and it doesn't help his cause that he's black. Other hockey players play with swagger too, but when P.K. Subban sports that swagger, it's hip hop. As a result, it's hard to put Subban's blackness aside-- it's a major element of his playing style. Worse, it's hard not to consider the role that plays when people talk about how he needs to earn respect.

Subban's blackness will continue to be an issue in the same way that Ray Emery's was. These are black athletes with hip hop swagger in hockey; they stand out like a sore thumb. Worse, they're stars in Canadian markets, where the coverage is vast, and, frankly, most hockey fans and media guys aren't really sure how much they're allowed to notice what's so plainly evident.

But worst of all, they're both jerks. It's hard to point that out without being labelled a racist. There was a brilliant episode of 30 rock on this once.

Anyway, as a result, coverage of Subban has become very, very sensitive. (Crap like this doesn't help). Nobody wants to be the racist. As Greg Wyshynskhi pointed out:

[This incident] does speak to some hypersensitivity in coverage in Subban, who is quickly becoming one of the most prominent black players in the NHL.

For example, CBC analyst Glenn Healy's words were scrutinized in the Globe & Mail after he said Subban was having "none of this monkey business" during a scrum. Columnist Bruce Dowbriggin wrote: "the incident illustrates the new sensitivities of modern broadcast etiquette in Canada’s multiracial culture."

Very true. But the Panger incident is different. He didn't break some sort of modern etiquette rule; he just had an Elmer Fudd moment. Later in the show, the panel briefly addressed the issue. Panger: "I feel terrible. I've got a knot in my stomach; it was an honest mistake, and I mixed up my words, obviously." Darren Pang is no racist. Heck, he's the star of the Urban Dictionary. Urban! But seriously, he's no more a racist than Ron Maclean is the grand marshall of Mardi Gras.

Edit: For a different take on this, check out Angie Lewis at All We Do is Puck, who takes issue with the things Pang said leading up to the gaffe:

Well, notice how Pang, and of course everybody else comments on Subban's behavior, need of "settling him down." The same conversation has happened with Russian Alex Ovechkin's personality and party-boyish ways. While it is understandable in the case of Subban in a community where everyone else doesn't act the way he does that he should be mindful of this for the betterment of his team, it is still troublesome that he has to do so.

This all goes under this concept of "conformity"... the idea that the right, proper way to do everything is to assimilate by conforming to the Anglo-Canadian style of play, attitude, training, etc. And this concept appears in many forms in our daily lives, and it is hard to detect by others on the outside because of the idea of privilege... unfortunately, this is All We Do Is Puck and not sociology class, so I won't explain all of it here, but it is something to be aware of.

There's definitely something to this, though I don't entirely agree with Lewis. To my mind, conformity is a team sports convention. I don't like it (it's partly why weirdly adorable Kyle Wellwood is playing in Russia and, as Lewis points out, it's certainly caused Alex Ovechkin undue grief), but it's not solely racial. Conformity attacks difference of all sorts.

That said, I've spoken to Angie Lewis on Twitter, and we both agree that no one seems quite sure what to do with P.K. Subban, and where his personality and his blackness intersect. This won't be the last we hear of this issue.


  1. I was watching the game last night when he said it and my jaw just dropped. I knew it was a slip up but I felt so bad for the guy and knew this was gonna stir up something.

  2. i think Subban is gonna tone down his game after being a healthy scratch a few times, hopefully that decreases the media coverage, cause quite frankly its a distraction to a really good montreal team.

    i've always like panger(cause he's short, not racist) so i'm gonna let this one slide.

    for the record i think pietrangelo is a better defenceman thatn subban

  3. Yes, conformity attacks all sorts of differences, but race is the easiest difference to spot. I'm sure it doesn't help that Subban can be labeled as "different" before anyone's even seen him play just because he's a different colour than the majority of hockey players.

    [/sociology discussion]

  4. The problem with Subban's attitude has nothing to do with conformity. You can be different all you want, so long as you're not putting yourself above the team. Every team has its own culture, and they often don't mesh very well. There's an article I'll write eventually about the Canucks' team culture, including where it came from and how Mike Gillis's has done such an excellent job of bringing in players that were of the "Canucks" variety.

    A good example would be teams like Dallas or New Jersey. There, there's a very strong team culture. New Jersey, it's almost funny. I've heard over and over that the Devils won the Cup without any big superstars. With Scott Stevens, Brian Rafalski, Scott Niedermayer and of course, Martin Brodeur, I can only disagree, but the thing about those guys is, they're all team-first guys. The last thing they'd do is steal the spotlight intentionally. They were New Jersey kind of superstars. That's why a guy like Kovalchuk could mess with the team so much. Kovalchuk signed a contract that said he was bigger than the team. All those years being the highest paid player in the league with a no-movement clause says a lot. Players from the Devils have made it very clear they don't resent Kovalchuk at all, which is very telling, because they don't say that about anyone else. Either they all resent everyone except Kovalchuk, or there's something up.

    Sean Avery in Dallas was another great example. The guy just refused to be just a member of the team who fulfilled his role. Sean Avery is useful as a player when what's expected of him coincides with what he feels like doing. He's an attention whore, and whatever team employs him is naturally going to be known in part as the team with Sean Avery. The Rangers benefit from having opponents focus on Avery. He's a big distraction. The Stars, however, played horribly while Avery was with them. The team lost focus.

    There are tons of other examples, but the relation to Subban is that his attitude takes a lot of attention as well. The Canadiens seem to have mixed opinions about him -- they're all supportive of their teammate, but you can tell some are supportive because he's their teammate, not because they agree with the way he conducts himself.

    Still, it seems the Canadiens have accepted him, if begrudgingly in some cases, and it hasn't hurt the team chemistry. Quite the opposite, clearly. It's going to rub some people in the NHL the wrong way. It happens. It's not a race thing, and it's not just that he's different. It's that he likes attention, and many players believe that means putting yourself ahead of the team. If Subban can find the balance, the way Roenick did, then he'll be fine.


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