P.K. Subban interrupted the NHL’s litany of horrific off-ice conduct headlines with a bombshell yesterday. He committed an astounding $10 million to Montreal’s Children’s Hospital, and had a wing named after him in thanks. Seeing social media alight with unqualified praise for Subban, the most hated man in hockey, is a strange experience. Even avowed anti-Subbanists were applauding the once-reviled defender, and many, understandably, noted how hard it would be to hate him this year.
Stop right there. I’m going to need you to stoke your smoldering Subban rage once the season starts.
Subban himself outlined the distinction necessary to make this possible:
“Sometimes I try to think, ‘P.K., are you a hockey player, or are you just someone who plays hockey? I just play hockey. Because one day I won’t be a hockey player anymore, I’ll just be someone who played hockey. So what do I want people to remember me for other than being a hockey player? Well, every time you walk into this hospital, you’ll know what I stand for.”
Take a moment to dab your eyes and consider what Subban is saying. His role as a hockey player is just one aspect of the whole man. It’s important enough, but it’s neither definitive nor ultimate. What matters most is how you conduct yourself as a human being in the world. What happens on the ice is a specific kind of performance on a narrow stage.
Your essential goodness gets tested and battered (but hopefully not broken) elsewhere.
An act of evil outside the arena’s circle of protection can justly destroy its sanctity and forever contaminate your presence there. An act of sanctioned aggression within the boundaries of the game should not reverberate powerfully outside it. This asymmetry is vital. An actor who plays a villain is reviled only by morons. An actor who commits some atrocity should be rebuked on every stage.
Subban has been cast as the villain since he entered the league. Why does everybody hate P.K. Subban? Those who hate him in a personal way, who have never met him, are to be lumped into the mass of morons mentioned above, and jettisoned into the sun along with the racists that have plagued his career.
For those who (far more reasonably) hate him as a hockey player, the usual reason is that Subban cuts counter to the typical reticent, stoic prototype of the NHLer. He is effusive, dynamic, forthright, playful, dirty(ish) and cheeky. There aren’t many players who can slash you then flash you a genuine winking smile. Subban seems to love every moment out there, whatever mischief he’s up to.
I think Subban is such a hatable player because he wants to be. Arpon Basu is convinced Subban relishes the villain role, despite Subban’s sly deflections, and I’m inclined to believe him. Rather than stand victorious in the centre of the ring bathing in the crowd’s adulation, Subban prefers to play the nemesis, feasting on the mortified indignation subduing the hometown hero creates. He’s said so himself, before a series-deciding game seven in Boston:
“It’s going to be great. I can’t wait for the crowd, the noise, the energy in the building.
“I can’t wait to take that all away from them.”
Subban wants you to get your hopes up so he can laugh at you as he tears them down. Of course you hate him. He makes sure of it, and in doing so, draws the greatest possible intensity out of you both.
Applaud Subban’s donation. Talk about it. Respect Subban the human being, for understanding what’s most important. This is real life, and no cynical hockey angle can touch it.
But when Subban visits your town with that hated CH on his chest, dry your eyes and draw your pitchforks. He loves to perform, and without your taunts and jeers, the show just wouldn’t be the same.