[Ed. note: this FanPost originally ran on July 11, 2012]
Hey y'all. I'm a super new Caps fan—as in I've only been watching the team since the start of the playoffs after a certain boyfriend roped me in (jcoral128, I'm looking at you)—so I admit to not having the depth of knowledge that lots of you on the site do. But in watching this year's playoffs, and following free agency, one player has fascinated me to no end—Alex Semin. So much so that I felt compelled to write this. I hope you enjoy.
It may have taken some time, but Alex Semin has proven that apathy is the most sinful characteristic to possess in the NHL.
Of course, we all know that it isn't Semin's game or impressive stats that have invited name-calling and critique during free agency. In fact, most analysts and fans of the sport have agreed that Semin's raw talent might be his only redeeming quality as a hockey player. No, hockey lovers hate that he relentlessly reminds fans of the innate absurdity of loving a sport more than life itself, that athletic competition is inane and foolish, and worst of all (and most offensively), that hockey is only a game. Semin has become a perfect personification of the un-American.
Semin isn't merely un-American because he is, well, Russian. We've seen that Russians in the league have the potential to point to and reify American values. Alex Ovechkin, for example, has been criticized for so-called Russianisms, but he's still a camera-favorite, an endorsement-receiver and a tennis-hottie-dater. It just doesn't get quite more American-athlete than that. Sports fans prefer their foreigners Americanized because these players remind us of all that is wonderful in American sports and-more broadly-they remind us of what we love about our country.
It is throughout these features where Alexander Semin shines as the anti-American. As a hockey player, Semin is far from competitive. He seems genuinely pleased when he scores a goal, but otherwise, doesn't seem too concerned with the outcome of any given game. While other players in the league would trade their first-borns for the Cup, Semin seems unaware that the Cup even exists. And while he is undeniably a strong player, Semin might not care about winning. That's so blatantly un-American that no further explanation is needed.
Clearly, Semin is a Russian patriot and a deep lover of his homeland (just consider his decision to play in Russia during the lockout). Perhaps it is the vestiges of Cold-War fears and concerns that explains why this quality seems highly offensive to most American hockey fans. But what exactly is wrong with Semin loving Russia more than he does America? Isn't our country's relationship with him nothing more than a symbiotic business alliance? Is it really necessary that they all become flag-flying American patriots too? Semin's performance the season after he returned to the U.S.—he was the Caps' second-leading scorer-shows that all the guy needed was a visit back home to remind him of what he loves and to reignite within him some passion for the game.
Semin's un-American quality is boldly highlighted in his seeming inability to throw down in a fistfight. Everyone remembers his epic throwdown with Marc Staal; Semin played Staal's back like a bongo. I am reminded here of driving to school with my brother while we were both in high school. My brother used to play a little driving game where if someone cut him off or cut in front of him, he would switch lanes to drive alongside the cutting-off car, drive up next to him, and stick out his tongue at the other driver. This, he figured, would point to the silliness and absurdity of displaying aggression on the road for no good reason. "It's the same behavior on the playground, carried forward in life," he would say to me after withdrawing his tongue.
Alexander Semin likely ascribes to a similar theory. I cannot say for sure, but I really do believe that Semin loves to play hockey. It's all the other foolishness that comes along with hockey with which he has a harder time. When asked about the fight during a 2009 interview, Semin proclaimed, "That's not my job to fight." Semin's words point to a very pragmatic approach toward hockey: his job is to play hockey. Period. It isn't his job to become best friends with all his teammates; it isn't his job to let McGuire drool all over him; and it certainly isn't his job to pummel Marc Staal, regardless of how much he may have deserved it. Semin received a lot of heat for his inability to fight well, but really think about it: Is it really possible that a 20-something-year-old from Siberia, who played hockey for most of his life, doesn't know how to throw a real punch or knock out another player? That seems pretty unbelievable to me. What is more likely is that Semin elected to fight in a silly manner, because the very idea of fighting when he is supposed to just be playing hockey and doing his job seemed downright absurd to him.
Semin is offensive to American hockey fans because he strips the game of everything we love: raw passion, illogical competitiveness and childish faith. Semin represents none of those things. He plays the game well because it's what he's good at and because it's his job, but his attachment to the sport goes no further than that. Still, his value as a team-member should not be overlooked. Aside from his undeniably impressive stats, the presence of Semin in the NHL serves as a constant and persistent reminder to the rest of us-hockey fans, players, announcers, and McGuires of the world-what we love about the sport and why we watch it. Through Alexander Semin's well-formed and closely held apathy, we each come to find a newfound passion for the game.