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My contribution to Give ’em the Lumber #4 is a translation from a Swedish book entitled Pittstim. Pittstim was published in 2008, nine years after the book Fittstim proved highly influential on Swedish discussions about gender politics. Fittstim roughly translates as “swarm of pussies” – the title was chosen after a prominent Social Democrat had used it in reference to the party’s women’s club. Fittstim was a collection of texts by young women reflecting on various aspects of female identity and gender relations. Pittstim – or “swarm of cocks” – understands itself as a belated contribution to the debate. It collects essays of young men who openly and self-critically analyze male socialization.

The first essay in the book is called “Piss Showers and the Pressure to Fuck: Guys and Sports”. It was written by Axel Gordh Humlesjö who grew up as an aspiring hockey player in Sweden’s far north. While the text paints a critical picture of hockey culture, it expresses an enduring love for the game itself. Having gone through similar experiences in European football locker rooms, I found the piece moving in its description of how unhealthy social expectations can ruin the joy and beauty that each athletic activity promises if executed in an atmosphere of respect and solidarity. In blunt terms, the text reminds us that in order to enjoy hockey – or any other game – we have to reclaim it from the assholes, idiots and bigots. In times when North America’s most famous hockey mom is a reactionary anti-abortion warmonger – oh, the hypocrisy! – it shouldn’t be too hard to drive the point home.

Today Axel works as a TV journalist. The following excerpt from his essay appears with his kind permission.

Gabriel Kuhn

– – –

We grew up in the team. Hockey was our source of inspiration and our boxing sack. During matches, our opponents became “pussies”, “fags” and “whores”. This was expected of us. We spurred each other on and got slapped on the back by our coach: “Come on, boys! This is no goddamn girls’ game!”

Some of the fathers on the stands were even more enthusiastic than us. They called the referees “cunts” and us “sissies”. When one of us took some time out after getting a puck or a stick in the groin, our coach Stefan would grin and say: “Stop whining. It’s not like you have much there anyway.” This was his favorite comment.

When I was on the ice, I got compliments from Stefan, but as soon as we were in the locker room it was a different story. Stefan checked our underwear and if he figured it wasn’t sweaty enough he accused us of laziness. I also got a hard time for being skinny: “What the fuck happened to you, Axel? You almost disappear without your gear!”

The older we got the tougher the coaching became. When puberty made us more spiteful towards each other, Stefan would be the worst of all. Today I believe that he saw himself when he looked at us and that he wanted to relive some of his own experiences as a youth. His attitude set the standard for the entire team.

Many of us suffered from the pressure we were exposed to. We felt imprisoned and wanted out. But we continued with what we were doing. Coaches, players and parents united to create a code of honor. A norm that told us how to behave as hockey players and as men. To call others “pussies”, “fags”, “whores” and “sissies” meant to identify the qualities that diverted from the ideal – an ideal that no one dared to challenge.

When Olof became our coach things changed. Olof was never our head coach but he was in charge once during spring season. One time he overheard us teasing Micke for his penis size. Olof got mad and told us to leave the skates at home for our next training session and to bring pen and paper instead.

That Monday we met at a café. Olof told us about his hockey career. As a talented young player he got a contract with a big club in Stockholm. All went well until he began drinking too much. “I thought that the team would support me, but no one would openly talk about feelings or problems. In the end, the booze dragged me down. I had to stop playing hockey. I became depressed because I didn’t know what to do instead. I had invested all I had into hockey and I wasn’t good at anything else.”

We looked up to Olof. He showed us respect and took us seriously in a way that other adults never had. He demanded the same from us that he demanded from his older players. Our behavior on and off the ice suddenly mattered. Olof could talk about our perception of girls, about the downsides of machismo and about the importance of treating your team mates with respect. The word “fag” was prohibited in the locker room. “A person’s sexual orientation is no one else’s business,” he used to say.

We would have ridiculed and scoffed at such lecturing before, but when Olof said something we listened. It felt great to know that he was there for support. Since he didn’t pick on us from above, no one felt the need to pick on anyone below. There was no demand to be particularly tough either. Olof was the first who broke with the hockey code I knew; he showed that there was a different way of being a man.

The following season everything went back to normal. Olof was gone and the old style returned. We, the best players on the team, owned the locker room and defended our territory with piss showers and fag jokes. We had no adult to point out our mistakes and soon forgot Olof’s principles.

We liked each other, but the closest we came to expressing this were towel snaps. To hang out meant to compete over who was best and toughest. At some point it just wasn’t fun anymore. I began to realize that the team was turning me into a despicable human being. Homophobe and brutal in a way I actually abhorred. I had no idea about who I was or how I wanted to be. The only thing I knew was that this wasn’t it.

It was a hard decision to make. After all, all this had been my world since I was very young. I left the team right in the middle of the season. I still loved playing hockey, but I could no longer deal with the way a hockey player was supposed to behave.


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Duking it Out in the NHL

Hockey fights are back in the news this week as Georges Laraque, in response to the recent death of Don Sanderson, has advocated rule changes to protect players from hitting their heads on the ice during fights. Laraque wants a penalty for anyone who fights without a helmet and for the linesmen to intervene when a player’s helmet comes off during a fight; “…if a guy throws a punch at a player without a helmet, he should get an extra penalty for that too.”

NHL Player’s Association Director Paul Kelly has been trying to reduce primetime dustups  between enforcers, “If it’s a staged fight between two super-heavyweights who, perhaps, arranged it the day before the game, I’m not sure those are fights we need to continue to have in the sport.” Kelly admits, however, that a clear majority of players believe that fighting serves a purpose in hockey. He sees its place too, “If the fight arises out of the spontaneity of the game, the emotion or the need to protect a teammate or yourself from an unclean hit, then that’s a natural part of the game that ought to remain.”

I’m glad to hear Kelly pipe up on this issue in a way that doesn’t give fodder for the usual media handwringing about fights in the NHL. As most players will tell you, fighting is not the only kind of violence that happens on the ice. In fact, it often reduces the potential for seriously violent situations like the Bertuzzi incident. The amount of concussions and serious head injuries caused by players hitting their heads on the ice during fights is miniscule when compared to hits to the head, boarding, elbows, and hits from behind. Kelly’s comments also widen the usual debate to include the  conditions that lead to fisticuffs. To do that  you need to consult the black book of hockey and the Jarrko Ruutus, Jordan Tootoos, Sean Averys, and Scott Hartnells of the game who put its lessons into practice on the ice.

The t.v. announcers use cliche after cliche, describing them as “throwing players off their game,” “being a pest,” or “getting in a goalie’s kitchen;” we all know we’re really talking about late hits, illegal stick work, knee on knee trips, goaltender interference and the whole circus sideshow of self-promotion from clowns like Avery. However you describe this type of player, they need to be held accountable either by the referees or by the players themselves. It’s a way hockey mirrors problems in our whole society; some players compete with respect for the game and a code of honor toward their fellow players and some bums don’t. In hockey it’s all typified to me by a situation in the 2006 Winter Olympics (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAZIMkNMTCw). Jarrko Ruutu skates all the way across the ice to elbow Jaromir Jagr’s head into the boards. He earns a match penalty and an ejection. Celebrating Olympic sportsmanship as he’s escorted off the ice he waves goodbye to the injured Jagr.

Now I’m not Jagr’s biggest fan -especially after the man that wears number 68 to remind people of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia goes to play in Russia for a huge pile of rubles –  but this is a situation where Ruutu clearly should have had his ass kicked.

Hockey is a physical-even violent-sport, but there are legitimate and illegitimate types of force on the ice. The main challenge for Paul Kelly and the NHL’s decision-makers is to rule out illegitimate violence without reducing legal hits, body checks , and the ability of players to stand up and defend themselves.

A lot of players have called for the abolition of the Instigator penalty so the rats of the league will have to drop the gloves when they’ve stepped over the line. I’m sympathetic to Neal Sheehy’s views on this subject which he published under the title, The Systematic Erosion and Neutralization of Skill and Play-Making in the NHL (http://www.sheehyhockeyllc.com/SystematicErosion.php).

The one situation where I think the Instigator penalty is useful is when players try to start fights after legal open ice hits or body checks against themselves or their teammates. Hits and checks are an integral part of the game on both sides of the ice, both offensively and defensively. They are legal physical plays and the players shouldn’t have to fight to use them. These are fights arising out of the emotion and spontaneity of the game as Kelly says but there’s still something problematic about giving equal time in the box for an instigator and someone who was just defending himself after a legal hit. Maybe drop the instigator penalty but give 5 for fighting to the attacker and 2 minutes for roughing to the player who was attacked.

I’m with Kelly when he wants to drop the pro-wrestling bullshit among the brotherhood of enforcers. I’m more interested in seeing the “agitators” made accountable. Douglass Murray is one of the best physical players and legal hitters in the league. He wears a visor to protect himself from high sticks and the type of eye injuries that have threatened the career of Saku Koivu. Murray plays like a man and he plays by the Code. I remember watching his first NHL game when he came up from the minors to join the Sharks. Although i don’t remember what the situation was which led to the fight, I do remember him taking his helmet off before the opposing player could throw a punch and slice his hand on Murray’s visor. Laraque’s rules would disallow Murray from defending himself or his teammates.

No one wants to see someone die on the ice from a concussion. No one wants to see players seriously injured either. The instigator rule was added to protect players from the intimidation of goons. Its unintended consequence, however, has been that it’s allowed the cheap shot artists to run amok. As a result we’ve probably had more serious head injuries from hits by the headhunters than from fights. While we’re discussing fighting in the NHL, announcers like Matthew Barnaby are talking about the “energy” the pests add to the game. Meanwhile Sean Avery is trying on a new suit with the Hartford Wolfpack.

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its-a-living1)What an embarrassment opening day was this year. Alanis Morisette? Def Leppard? NHL Faceoff “Rocks.” When are we going to see the Hansons show Gary Bettman how to rock? What’s your take on music in the NHL? Do the players have better taste than the marketing douchebags? I noticed Darren McCarthy wearing a Def Leppard t-shirt when he passed the Cup to Joe Elliot (show some respect & put it rightside up ya tool!)

They’re about as sharp as a sack of bricks. They completely missed a great opportunity to make me wealthy. Bettman’s grand idea, “Hey don’t come up with a marketing plan that suits hockey, let’s change hockey to suit our marketing plan”. There’s a reason David Stern recommended Bettman to the NHL, to get rid of the competition!

2)I saw an interview with Joe Thornton back in his Bruins days. He was wearing a Dropkick Murphys t-shirt. Have the Hansons had any recognition from the players?

Yeah, a little from what I’ve heard. When we opened the All Star Break in Vancouver (invited because the Canucks media man was a fan so I’m told) I was recognized by a couple of the players. WE had a video that played around the jumbotrons back then.

3)Not only did we have the Def Leppard debacle, but the Flyers allowed Sarah Palin to drop the puck on opening day. I don’t know if you Canadians have been paying attention but you’ve got a real level 1 retard for a neighbor.
Is this lady what hockey moms are like? Shouldn’t Alaska be Canadian anyway?

Only the ones that become slimey self-serving fascist politicians, yunno the liars and the cheats we have to vote for. She is a disgrace to any self-respecting hockey mom, well, actually to any mom, OK to all of us!

4)Player/Coach Reggie Dunlop’s number was raised to the rafters in Syracuse a few weeks back. It’s time for a ceremonial viewing of Slapshot. Have you guys had any contact with the Carlsson Brothers? Wasn’t there a Hanson Bros-Hanson Bros project in the works, a hockey fight video with your music as soundtrack?

Was he really? Fucking awesome. We honor him each night with our little rendition of “Get It Right Back”. Great man. I have never met the Carlsson brothers. I think they might just kick the shit out of us for horning in on their schtick ha ha ha Yes, there was some discussion of a rock em sock em hockey video but their lawyer never got his shit together. Their lawyer does everything “Hanson”, they just show up and put you in a headlock. It’s amazing the icons that movie created. I think Steve coaches minor hockey.

5)Speaking of fisticuffs does anyone in the new NHL live up to the legacy of Dave “Tiger” Williams?

No one will touch that record! Why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame? For shame, for shame. Musta beat up the wrong guy somewhere along the way. Several years ago he got into trouble up here for punching out someone in the parking lot after an old timers game.

6)Would you be willing to share a beer recipe?

Of course I would. I only wish my How to Brew video could start the beer tsunami that would wash away the Budweisers and Coors of this world.

(Editors Note: this will be posted when the Hansons return from their proselytizing tour of the lower territories. The are currently spreading the Canadian gospel in the southern states)

7)What’s your take on the 2010 winter olympics in Vancouver?

Conjestion. Traffic night mare. A bunch of pounsy elitists whining about the ethics of sport…all the way to the bank. Oh yeah and some of the best hockey the rest of the world will see, ha ha ha

8)There’s talk of expanding the NHL to Europe. It’s almost a Hockey cold war against the Russians and their KHL. You’ve just taken a major tour across the pond. How do you feel about European Hockey?

They’re pretty good figure skaters. A double axel will get you a good contract on the KHL I guess. I’m shivering in my boots. You talk to any hockey player anywhere in the world and they’ll tell you the Stanley Cup is the holy grail and that will never change. The best want to compete with the best and Russian Oil money will not change that. But European crowds are great and loyal fans there’s no doubt about that.

speaking of the  2010 olympics, how about a puck rock festival in vancouver?

Sounds like a good excuse to down a few!


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