Heroes, heartache and the beauty of hockey
Keon and Me is not a regular sports biography: it is about humanity, heroes and violence. Framed in hockey culture, author and noted Toronto musician Dave Bidini tells us his story from dual perspectives: as an 11-year-old in 1974 and as a grown man reflecting on his childhood.
As a kid, one of Bidini’s heroes was the Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dave Keon. When he encountered a bully, he didn’t fight back because Keon never fought in games. Bidini emulated him without question.
“When you’re young, you have an almost unreasonable sense of someone you admire,” he says. “When you grow up, the curtain gets drawn back and you see, for example, that the Wizard of Oz is just a sad old man.”
Bidini argues for the importance of holding on to some of that enchantment. “Unless we maintain that sense of romance about people we admire, we’ll all end up being cynics,” he says. “You have to fight to maintain it as you get older because the world becomes more stark.”
This sentiment is echoed in the contrast between Bidini’s narratives, though he manages to keep some magic, particularly in regard to hockey. Violence plays a part in his childhood: both in hockey and at school. Bullying as Bidini experienced it is rarer today because there is more awareness (now it is more online). At the time, teachers thought the kids were just playing and parents were never there.
“At my kids’ school, parents are there all the time,” he says. “If my parents had been around my school, it probably wouldn’t have happened.”
As Bidini learned about violence first-hand, it became more prevalent in hockey.
“The game started to be dominated by that kind of play as opposed to beautiful hockey,” he says. “I remember the Philadelphia Flyers were rivals of the Leafs at that time: they were lawless, crude and violent. I hated it.”
Despite this ugly underbelly of sports culture, it is not all bad.
“The militarization of sports is dangerous, and the gladiatorial aspect is really horrible,” he says, “but there are enough elements that demonstrate the opposite.”
Usually large crowds mean riots or protests, but when the Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs last spring, the people in front of the Air Canada Centre were happy and proud. Fighting aside, sports culture can connect people in surprisingly positive ways.
Though hockey fans may know the history better, if you’ve ever had a childhood hero and experienced the pain and confusion of growing up, you will connect with this story.
Dave Bidini is a Toronto-based writer and musician. Keon and Me is his 10th book.