Keep language out of the rink
Like a debilitated canine on its last breath, it is time to take the Montreal Canadiens language controversy and put it to sleep.
I love the Habs. As a French-Canadian I feel close to my team and I truly believe they’re an institution in this province. I watch their games in French on RDS because it’s how I was raised; the commentators are Quebecers and I can relate to them more easily than I can to Bob Cole on CBC.
I didn’t shed a single tear when Randy ‘unilingual’ Cunneyworth was chosen to coach the Habs until the end of the season. He’s respected by the players and they couldn’t care less about his language abilities (or disabilities rather). It’s embarrassing to make such a big deal about this “issue,” mostly because it’s yet another deterrent for big name players to come to Montreal.
When they acquired Rene Bourque last week, he tweeted about not being able to speak French and the fear that put into him. Reporters greeted him at the airport and asked if he planned on learning French. Do you think he cares? Is that the kind of reception he wants?
The province needs to rally behind the only NHL team it has, but instead, a few hundred separatists with too much time on their hands gather and protest in front of the Bell Centre, in the hopes of raising awareness to their so-called plight. Aren’t there enough distractions already?
The Habs are losing badly; the media circles every practice and game like vultures, star players are injured and under-performing, and some of them even fight during practice. On top of all that, they have to cater to the province’s archaic notion that a coach has to speak French? If the Habs had been winning left and right, there would be no issue—Celine Dion could be coaching and they wouldn’t care. By emphasizing that the coach has to speak French, the Canadiens organization is limiting itself to a very small pool of coaches it can choose from, and ignoring others who are equally or more qualified for the position.
Some say if Cunneyworth had said a few words in French during his initial press conference, the media would have been satisfied. So what’s the difference between speaking no French, and saying ‘bonjour’ and ‘merci’? The Habs lost yet another game last week against Ottawa in which they had the lead. The players are the ones performing on the ice and they alone can affect the outcome of a game. Habs legend Guy Lafleur said it best: “It doesn’t matter if you speak German, Russian, or whatever. The bottom line is: win the games and then make the playoffs and try to win the Stanley Cup.”
The Habs actually had a string of French-speaking coaches in the past decade: Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien, Claude Julien and Guy Carbonneau. Guess what? None of them lasted more than three years. We fire them and complain about not having the right coaches. How does that make sense? I see very little difference between Cunneyworth giving his post-game comments in English, or adding, “Now I’ll say the exact same thing in extremely broken French.”
The media needs to grow up and realize it’s always been about winning. The Habs have enough problems of their own. Laissez-les jouer.
Canadiens need to respect the culture
I didn’t grow up in Montreal. I’m not a die-hard Canadiens fan. I don’t speak French, nor do identify with the culture. Still, though, I feel that the Francophones, especially those in the media, have the right to be upset with the hiring of a monolingual coach.
The Canadiens are not just a hockey team. They are an institution. A way of life. They define the city more than corruption, crumbling infrastructure and strip clubs do combined.
It is reasonable for some Francophones to view the interim hiring of Randy Cunneyworth as the further “anglo-izing” of their beloved Habitants. Very few players on the team can speak French and if even the coach doesn’t speak the language it sends the message that the Canadiens are just another NHL team, who just happen to play in a French speaking city. Sure, fans may warm up to Anglo players or coaches, but there is a reason names like Richard, Beliveau and Roy resonate in ways that Shutt, Gainey and Dryden just don’t.
Of course, Montreal is a bilingual city, in a primarily French speaking province. If you want to work in any important position in this province you need to be able to get by in French. And here’s a news flash: head coach of the Montreal Canadiens is a pretty damn important position. The coach is the captain of the ship and if the majority of the team’s fans can’t identify, or even understand what he is saying, it creates strain between the team and the community that cherishes it so much.
Having an English speaking coach also makes it difficult for the members of the french media. Even though some can get by in English, if you are trying to operate in a language you aren’t fully comfortable with, it becomes difficult to build a relationship and communicate with your source so you can properly understand the stories and issues surrounding the team. At the very least, the Canadiens should use some of their riches to pay a translator to sit with Cunneyworth during interviews. However, as someone who has had to operate in such a way at times, working with a translator can also become difficult and frustrating to carry on a conversation.
An argument that is often made is that the team handcuffs itself by excluding English coaches as potential candidates. This is partially true, but it’s not as though there are no capable bilingual coaches. I believe of the remaining four teams in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, three had French speaking coaches. It’s not as though the team has a policy where they only hire people from Uzbekistan. There are plenty of brilliant hockey minds in this country who can function in the two official languages.
This being said, the Montreal Canadiens’ head coach’s office has had a revolving door installed on it the past few seasons. The fans and media never seem to be happy. It is time for both sides to meet in the middle.
Fans and media need to realize the Habs’ roster this season is not very good and, regardless of who is behind the bench, if you don’t have the talent on the ice, it just doesn’t matter.
The team, though, needs to put this issue to rest at the end of the season and hire a coach who can speak French.