Oh, Canada!

The Curmudgeon apologizes in advance for what looks like a post about sports.  Yes, this is an item about something that just happened in the world of sports, but no, it’s not really about sports at all.

The Montreal Canadiens are a professional hockey team.  The Canadiens’ history and traditions, for those of you who don’t know anything about hockey, are every bit as distinguished and celebrated as those of the New York Yankees baseball team.  In fact, for years The Curmudgeon has insisted that the three most difficult jobs in sports are head coach of the Canadiens, manager of the New York Yankees, and head coach of Notre Dame’s football team.  For The Curmudgeon’s money – not that his money is at stake here – the Canadiens’ coaching job is the toughest of the three.  By far.

The Canadiens have not fared well of late, and last week they decided to fire their coach and replace him with a man who appears very well-qualified for the job.

Except that he doesn’t speak French.

As it turns out, that’s very important to many residents of Montreal and Quebec province – whether they care about the Canadiens or not.  An uproar ensued.

The new coach, a fellow named Randy Cunneyworth, is now being described as an interim coach, implying that the position may not be his permanently (but then, there’s no such thing as a permanent coaching job in the world of sports.  For proof, see Paterno, Joe).  While team management originally suggested that they hoped Mr. Cunneyworth would succeed and remain on the job, the team’s owner retreated in the face of outrage over the new coach’s inability to speak French – apparently, inability to speak French didn’t prevent Mr. Cunneyworth from earning his previous job as the team’s assistant coach – and said that the ability to speak French and English will be “a very important factor in the selection of a permanent head coach.”  The team is owned by the Molson family, which also sells beer, and ownership apparently fears a boycott of its team, its brew, or both.

So how big an uproar was it?

According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, “In one of the more extreme examples, columnist Rejean Tremblay argued team management have long wanted to ‘eradicate’ French from the club to strength its iron grip on communications.”

If that’s one of the more extreme examples, what is one to make of this outburst from Gilles Rheaume, who is identified by the web site “SB Nation” as “the head of one of those Separatist groups” in Quebec?

There are many in Quebec and in all of French America who are asking, the day after a unilingual anglophone was given the head coaching job, if the Canadiens’ management hasn’t been stricken with francophobia, characterized by a total insensitivity to the French fact in Quebec.

A unilingual anglophone – hurry, lock up the women and children, there’s a unilingual anglophone on the loose in Montreal!

(By the way, a note to Microsoft:  your spell check function didn’t know what to make of “unilingual,” “anglophone,” or “francophobia” – a literal hat trick (a hockey term) in a single sentence.)

Not to be outdone, public officials needed to get in on the lunacy, too.  The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that Christine St. Pierre, the province of Quebec’s culture minister, told The Canadian Press that “There is an element of pride for Quebecers.  The Canadiens are in our genes.  It’s an institution and the Canadiens should be sensitive to it.”

The Curmudgeon wonders whether she made a fool of herself in English or in French.

While sports will not be the focus of this blog and will appear in it only occasionally, The Curmudgeon is a fairly avid sports fan.  To the degree that he is less avid now than he was in the past, it’s largely because he thinks so many of the fans and most of the news media have taken so much of the fun out of the fun and games.

And The Curmudgeon offers the fans of the Montreal Canadiens as exhibit A.

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