Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday's Musings on Sports - What Comes First - the Olympic Edition

There is a scene in A Few Good Men (one of my favorite movies of all time) where Tom Cruise is interviewing a client who is charged with murder and the solider begins to talk about the "code". One of the other officers asks him about the code and the soldier responds "Unit, Corps, God, Country." Cruise responds "the government of the United States wants to charge you two with murder. And you want me to go to the prosecutor with unit, corps, God, country?" The solider responds "that's our code."

The scene from A Few Good Men was rolling around my head over the last week, but not because I had watched it recently. It was the order of priority in the code that made me wonder what comes first in the Olympics.

All year long, the overwhelming majority of the players on the 12 national Olympic hockey teams play for teams in various professional leagues. The most prominent of the leagues is the NHL, but there is a sizable contingent from the Russian KHL, the Swedish Elite League and some other European professional leagues. Just like the players on the United States and Canadian Olympic Hockey teams are a mix of players from various NHL teams, the players on the European teams come from many sources. By way of example, the Czech Republic has sixteen NHL players on its roster, while twenty four of the twenty five players on the the Swedish team come from the NHL. Even Switzerland has six or seven NHL players on their roster.

During the two weeks of the Olympics, these players join together with their countrymen to attempt to medal for their respective homelands. The allegiances can be strange as players who are on teams which are bitter rivals during the regular season are now teammates, if not linemates in the pursuit of a medal.

I heard a  great interview with a former player (I can't remember who) on NHL radio last week. He said that during the 1984 Canada Cup series when the USSR played Canada in hockey, there was friction between the Islander and Oiler players on Canada's team and they did not want to play together. The teams had just played against each other in each of the last two Stanley Cup finals and there was a fierce rivalry. The former player being interviewed said that Larry Robinson of the Montreal Canadians had to make peace between the Oiler and Islander players before they would play together.

The real question is - what happens when a regular season teammate now becomes the adversary in Olympic competition. Although the player wants to win a gold medal, he also knows that when the Olympics are over he wants to win the Stanley Cup and he needs that teammate to be able to perform. Would the player not check him in the Olympic competition? Would he come to his aid if he was fighting with another player who wears different colors?

The concept of where one's loyalty lies and the order of progression of "Unit, Corps, God, Country" hit home when I paid a shiva call over the weekend. I was visiting by the F__ Family and one of the mourners was talking about his maternal grandfather who had fought for Germany in WWI. The man said that when his grandfather was in battle against the French, he was an infantryman and had been issued a rifle with bayonet. One day when he was in hand to hand combat he was about to stab an enemy soldier when the soldier yelled out "Shma Yisrael" as he clearly thought that he was going to die. My friend's grandfather disarmed the enemy soldier and sent him on his way.

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