Monday, January 29, 2018

Jaromír Jágr's difficult, masochist retirement reveals his special heart

I've become a – somewhat superficial – fan of soccer and ice-hockey, partly because of my Pilsner patriotism combined with Pilsner teams' being leaders both in soccer and ice-hockey (at this moment and, at least in the case of soccer, in most moments in the recent 7 years – with some successes in the European leagues as well; the ice-hockey HC Škoda Pilsen is owned by Martin Straka, an ex-NHL player). Quite generally, I think that most athletes are rather stupid, uninteresting as human beings, and frankly speaking, I don't really care if someone is 20% or 40% better than the average Joe in some physical activity.

The real reason why I don't care about these 20% or 40% is that I am convinced that physics geniuses are better than the average Joe in something much more important by thousands or millions of percent. So 20% differences simply leave me almost unexcited.

Jaromír Jágr, a Czech ice-hockey legend, has been very popular in Czechia, repeatedly voted as the best Czech athlete (although there have been many others – e.g. Gabriela Koukalová in recent years) and I became his fan, too.

Shortly after the Velvet Revolution, in 1990, the 18-year-old guy came to the NHL to become the league's youngest player. Jágr has been a right-winger – both in the political and ice-hockey sense – and wore his number 68 to remind everyone of the year when Czechoslovakia was occupied after it temporarily liberalized itself. He's played in almost all NHL teams (plus Omsk in KHL) in the following quarter a century, won the Olympic tournament as well, became the 2nd man in two historical tables after Gretzky and Howe, respectively (more cool stats here), and now, he was the league's oldest player – soon to be 46 years old – and was placed on waivers by Calgary Flames, his last NHL team.

The waivers seems to be an achievement of the NHL players' labor unions that guarantee that when a club wants to fire a player, it's respected that it may be just a mistake or injustice created by one isolated club, so the player must be offered to all other NHL teams before he gets downgraded. OK, so he was on the waiver list up to a deadline which passed 2 hours ago. No other team wanted him so he's probably flying over the Atlantic Ocean at this very moment.

If he's really fast, he may play in Kladno, his Czech club where he started – and which he owns right now (and it's in the 2nd league now, by the normal counting – it's officially called the "1st league" while the main league is called "extraleague"). He could play in Kladno as soon as Wednesday (against Carlsbad) or, more certainly, on Saturday against Venice Upon Jizera. Today without Jágr, Kladno lost 0-to-6 against Aussig.

Some alternative stories suggest he could play for Berlin's Polar Bears.

To appreciate the magnitude of the downgrade to the Czech club, note that Kladno and Venice Upon Jizera (to pick a foe) have 70 thousand and 7 thousand inhabitants, respectively. They're not quite the same cities as Pittsburgh and others. But these 7-something numbers understate the importance of the towns – Kladno's dirty industry and Venice's observatory built by Tycho Brahe, among other things (Kepler came there in 1600, Bedřich Smetana taught there almost 200 years later).

Needless to say, he's still skillful and relatively to an average man of the same age, he's in an incredibly good shape. However, a somewhat more relevant professional comparison is one placing him against the average NHL players – often much younger ones. Jágr gets injured too easily, admits to prefer to avoid one-on-one clashes. Everyone understands the disadvantages of a 46-year-old athlete in such a heavily physical sport.

He must really love the sport, be dependent on it in a certain deep psychological way, and he's probably afraid of leaving. Over the years, we've seen various videos in which Jágr helped to do some good pranks (here in 2005, Jágr taught Bobby Granger to say you stink like a pig in Czech, which was a helpful line to say it to Petr Průcha – the results were expected) but especially his daily training. He's been torturing his body intensely.

All his fellow players left ice-hockey a decade ago or more. So basically everyone seems to think that he's painful, he's missed the greatest moment to leave. But I find these judgments to be nothing else than the average man's efforts to impose his mediocre morality on Jágr. Jágr's unusual character traits must be partly credited with his stellar achievements – and this difficult leaving was more or less inseparable from these traits. So I simply wouldn't agree with describing his recent activities in purely negative terms. Yes, you could have left the NHL earlier and more smoothly, but you would have probably left too early – most likely well before you get into the NHL in the first place. ;-)

In my opinion, Jágr could do lots of things very well if he leaves the active sport duties.

In FC Viktoria Pilsen, we had Pavel Horváth, a famous senior soccer player (formerly in AC Sparta Prague) who was also safely above 40 years of age. But even though everyone could see and mention how much Horváth must love those hamburgers by looking at his physique, he still ended smoothly enough. And I sometimes hear him on the local Hit Radio FM Plus – where he became a comedian of a sort. He's actually rather funny. Well, at least I can't resist laughing very often even if I acknowledge that most of the humorous punch lines are rather cheap. But they're still funny.

Jágr is capable of making jokes but his soul is more spiritual and, from some viewpoints, tragic. Unlike the overwhelmingly atheist Czech pigs, Jaromír Jágr has been christened in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His faith was one of the forces that have probably kept him going for so long. OK, I don't really understand why he "needed" to stay in the NHL for so long. Maybe it was mainly his desire to top the all-time tables, instead of being 2nd. Maybe it was something more important. But whatever it was, I would have respect for it.

As I have mentioned, I don't really have too much respect for the top athletes' skills. So if I were a manager of an NHL club, I would have hired this legendary player because he's far more interesting than a big majority players in the (spiritual, moral, or historical) respects I actually care about – and 20% differences in the rigidity of bones or 10% differences in speed aren't what I care about much. On the other hand, I respect the professional character of the NHL where the things I don't care about actually matter the most.

I wish a lot of good luck to Jaromír Jágr. Despite the decades in which he was lionized, the – rather typically jealous – Czech voices who want to redefine him as a loser are louder than ever before. Because of the things I am hearing and reading, it's imaginable that he could be happier in a German village's ice-hockey club, after all, and play there up to his 70s.

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