Mike Ribeiro of the Montreal Canadiens is probably a very nice young man. Sure, there's that whole faking-an-injury-in-the-playoffs stigma that still comes up in conversation when hockey people talk about the wispy, 25-year-old center. But hockey is just a game, and nearly every inside of it doesn't mean diddly in any important sense.
However, we're not nearly so ready to give Ribeiro a pass when it comes to his recent remarks about the Canadian federal election.
Asked by Canadian Press writer Pierre LeBrun whether he planned to vote Jan. 23, Ribeiro didn't pull punches:
"It's not really important to me," Ribeiro said of politics. "I follow it a bit, but to go vote, I'm not too sure if they take your vote or if they make their own decisions. I don't think it's in the hands of the people to decide. I don't think we decide.
"I don't think people have power.Â”
Yikes. It's clear John Lennon's songs aren't taking up much space on this guy's IPod.
Normally, Screen Shots is all for players speaking their minds, but this is one instance where a Â“no commentÂ” would've done just fine. Intentional or not, Ribeiro's words were shameful. They are an insult to the thousands of Canadians veterans and their families, all of whom have suffered indignities often unspoken and rarely recognized, all so that others had the gift of determining their own futures.
Ribeiro's is the anti-Muhammad Ali mentality. He is the competitive athlete as civic defeatist, the political equivalent of someone who'd tell a kid to not bother training in hopes of becoming an NHLer, because the odds are overwhelmingly against him.
And that's simply not true. Voting is just as important, if not more important, than it has ever been. The present-day matters of concern and debate Â– matters of human rights, of individual freedoms, of the environment, of famine and war and poverty Â– have implications that will affect every one of us. Mike Ribeiro included.
On one level, Ribeiro's cynicism could be seen as admirable. Certainly, politicians on both sides of the border have given people ample reason to grow weary of the make-promises-break-promises cycle of modern-day public service. And there is also a growing movement in North America to create and implement new democratic systems that re-distribute power in manners more impactful to the masses.
But that's no excuse for Ribeiro, a public figure, and, yes, a role model, to say what he said. To come across as he did - dismissive, nihilistic even Â– only reinforces the perception of the modern athlete as bubble-bound, as self-immersed, as alien to the plight of the working class schmuck who cuts corners to help pay NHL salaries.
And we wonder why the owners had such little trouble getting fans on their side during the lockout.
The issue of declining voter turnout is one as much in need of urgent attention and action as issues of illiteracy and abuse. It is not something to be filed away as another example of Â“kids today ain't nuthin' but ungrateful little anklebiters.Â”
Voting - which is really the act of helping to decide the direction of your life and the lives of those you love - takes less time out of your day that a Seinfeld re-run, or a Sidney Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins highlight reel. Yet it has somehow become fashionable to denigrate the voting process, to wear your political apathy as you would a medal, to stick out your shoulders and shrug Â‘em as hard as you can.
And we wonder why certain politicians get elected time and again.
Really, is it too much to ask that pro athletes educate themselves on the issues that truly matter, even if only on a base level? Shouldn't we be encouraging players to promote the view that voting should be looked on as a responsibility, rather than a ruse or a burden? You would think the answers are clear, but the lack of response to Ribeiro suggests otherwise.
At the very least, it would have been comforting to hear the league rebuke Ribeiro's comments. Something like, Â“Mike Ribeiro is entitled to his opinion, but the National Hockey League encourages its players and its fans to learn about the political process and speak their mind through the casting of a ballotÂ” would've done the trick just fine.
Instead, we got nothing. And that silence, that tacit acceptance of Ribeiro's view, sends a message to young hockey players coming through the junior and college systems.
That message: as long as you are talented on the ice, nothing else matters. You can be as disconnected from the world around you, so long as things are hunky-dory at the arena.
And we wonder why some of them have such a tough adjustment to life after hockey.
Thank goodness some NHLers get it. Canucks center Brendan Morrison is one of them.
"When you're younger (voting is) something you take for granted," Morrison told Canadian Press. "When you get older you realize what has happened in history before you. A lot of people have put their lives on the line to be able to have our country where it is today.
Â“It's a privilege to vote and something special."
Smart kid, that Morrison. Mike Ribeiro could learn a thing or two from him.
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