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Rocco Grimaldi: Between God and Ice

June 26, 2011

American Rocco Grimaldi of the US National Development Team went 33rd overall yesterday in the NHL Draft.

Puck Daddy took up the issue of Rocco’s religion yesterday. I suppose calling it an “issue” is unfair. But it’s being made into an issue. Beyond this, TSN went to interview Rocco in the stands at the Xcel Center too, asking him about his tie and pointedly also questioning him on how teams handled his religion during interviews. Grimaldi’s is a mere five foot six, and much of the attention paid to him of late has revolved around his height. This is only natural during the draft and while making projections. Height is important. But is religion?

Undoubtedly, it’s sensitive. And it’s subjective. And it’s also curious that very little has been mentioned with regard to his religion until the draft. Usually the backstories of players are covered and repeated to the nth degree. Why didn’t this come up? We’ll never know.

But now we do. And will he be associated with it permanently, a la Tim Tebow? Will people later ascribe his fall from the first round (which admittedly was by no means guaranteed) to it?

Hockey players are a quiet bunch. I suspect they have many opinions and views on the world, but they infrequently elaborate upon them or voice them at all. It’s simply part of being a hockey player…being stoic. I think this story converges on two points: an anomaly to the hockey world in terms of his religiosity and an anomaly to the hockey world in terms of his vocalness about it all.

We know Shane Doan and Mike Fisher are devout Christians. But we don’t know much more than that. Grimaldi has taken to his Twitter account to cite Bible passages and discuss faith as it relates to his life. Like many members of a new generation in hockey, he has taken to new media and is comfortable using it. But it is still jarring, somehow. Even to me. Maybe it’s the way hockey is played, maybe it’s the uniforms, but signs of crosses or religion or crossing oneself (though seen) isn’t really all that prominent. Grimaldi is breaking with that all.

And all the power to him.

Religion is personal, and when on display, it has a way of making people feel a) embraced and inspired or b) embarrassed and awkward. It’s unclear how it will shake out for Rocco in Florida. I am going to venture and say it will be a non-issue. But after the draft, his religion will forever be associated with him. But all the power to him: he’s living with his convictions. And I say this as an atheist.

Without question it could be raised as that “issue” later on down the road in his career. Locker room troubles? Hm. Trade talks? Hm. People will always wonder whether his overt religiosity was related.

And certainly, there’s a desire in sport to avoid attributing greatness to anything other than the player. This is perfectly sensible. I think our inherent aversion to talk about religion in hockey and “God’s will” has to do with the simple fact we’d rather our players be in control, not God. That may be too bold a statement. But on draft day, we think to players, their skills, who they’ve played for, what awards they’ve won…not whether God wanted this or that to happen. Grimaldi may think the Panthers were chosen by God to take him at 33rd overall. But the rest of the world knows the Panthers snatched him up as the Best Player Available.

But do any of us really know that? No. Because proving or disproving God’s existence, that debate, won’t quite work in a standard blog post. But Grimaldi is pushing the envelope, perhaps urging us subconsciously to think less, or to think more.

But he’s charting new territory.

One Comment leave one →
  1. bob permalink
    June 27, 2011 07:43

    Way to go Rocco ! You know you could not have made it as far as you have without divine intervention and God given innate skills and abilities. NFL players huddle together and pray after games. They know it as well. So does a great like Mariano Rivera when he speaks about his accomplishments.

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