I watched the NHL draft last week and have forgotten most of the names mentioned. Two, however, stick in my mind. It isn't their faults or credits I remember, but rather the presuppositions of the media questions which juxtaposed these young men as a commentary on our social condition.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was chosen first overall in this draft and received more coverage than most. Commentators talked about his maturity and composure as they debated whether he was ready to step into the NHL next season. Quite matter-of-factly and with considerably more detail than seemed normal, they discussed the impact of his parent's separation while he was very young as a contributing factor to his character.
Rocco Grimaldi was a novelty because of his size. At 5'6" and 165 lbs., he was the shortest player ever drafted when the Florida Panthers made him the 33rd pick overall. Grimaldi is also well-known for being outspoken about his faith. At the draft, he wore a tie with a biblical text. The interviewer asked him about his faith and whether being openly religious could be a divisive matter in an NHL dressing room.
Both young men were presented as talented young men of character. The interviewers were seeking to provide insight on how their personal circumstances helped shape their present opportunity. However, it was the underlying presupposition of the journalists which struck me. Character shaped by having to deal with family breakup is so routine that it is self-evident how it helps a kid mature. Character that comes from religious education and commitment is so out-of-the-ordinary, it needs to be questioned for its potential divisiveness.
More than providing insight into these two young men and their hockey potential, the commentary provided insight on the character of our society. We 'get' family breakdown and experiential learning; we don't 'get' religious commitment and faith. The first is regrettable but normal, and something that ideally we learn from; the second is divisive and to be handled with care. It would be more comfortable not to be so public about this faith stuff.
I was watching as a sports fan, not amateur sociologist. I don't want to read too much into sportscasters' interviews. However, my sense is that he graphically captured our present moment in terms of how we think about character building. That which comes from dealing with adversity is normal and good; that which comes from religion is suspect and divisive.
What seemed lost on the interviewer and, I fear, in general perception, is the overwhelming evidence that as a general social rule the lack of a healthy parental relationship is destructive to children, while the inculcation of faith is a benefit to children. Without knowing anything about these young men, the evidence suggests that the positive developments in Mr. Nugent-Hopkin's character took place in spite of his household circumstance, while those of Mr. Grimaldi likely took place because of his faith. Of course, there are exceptions, but they don't negate these basic rules.
This may disappoint some who would like to believe that entering into and ending marriage is a matter of choice without public consequence, or that religion is totally a private matter not to be discussed in polite company, but wishing these things to be true doesn't make them that way.