This blog originally appeared in Huffington Post Canada on June 30, 2016
Let’s call it what it is — young, black hockey players are few and far between in the National Hockey League. Rising to the top of his position in his short NHL career is also fairly unique. His parents immigrated from Jamaica to Sudbury, and PK did spend some of his childhood growing up in Northwestern Ontario. A minority there too, undoubtedly. He is one of three brothers playing in the NHL. Pretty unique as well. Subban is unabashedly different, and he owns it. That’s worth admiring and emulating.
Any way you slice it, PK Subban is different. The NHL general manager who hurled a missile in announcing he had been traded said as much, in both official languages.
The former Montreal Canadiens defenceman — winner of the Norris trophy given to the NHL’s top blue-liner two years removed, one of the highest paid players at his position in the league, philanthropist who donated $10 million dollars this past season to the Montreal Children’s Hospital and has a wing of the healthcare institution named after him, Olympic gold medallist — whirls like a cyclone both on and off the ice.
You either get him, or you don’t. There ain’t no in-between.
He is flamboyant, brash, confident, outspoken, articulate, opinionated, affable, thoughtful, candid, passionate, energetic, talented, strong-willed, and driven to epic proportions, it would appear. Did I mention passionate and full of a raw, electric, seemingly insatiable energy?
Polarizing is a word most often used to describe the Toronto-born third of five children.
He has also spent most, if not all of his life, in the minority.
Let’s call it what it is — young, black hockey players are few and far between in the National Hockey League. Rising to the top of his position in his short NHL career is also fairly unique. His parents immigrated from Jamaica to Sudbury, and PK did spend some of his childhood growing up in Northwestern Ontario. A minority there too, undoubtedly. He is one of three brothers playing in the NHL. Pretty unique as well.
Subban is also different because he does things his own way — good or bad, he is his own man. Is something wrong with that?
I will admit here that in the beginning I didn’t quite get him, til I realized that’s because we’re just so used to the bland, saccharin sea of sameness. Just not used to seeing his kind of character, anywhere. I’ll admit, there are times, I need to take him in teeny, tiny doses. But one thing is for sure, I respect him for his journey, his accomplishments and and his blazing red streak of independence.
Exuding non-conformity in every swagger-filled stride, the 27-year-old who grew up idolizing the team that drafted him in 2007, spends very little time worried about what others think of him. (We share that trait, actually.)
As a parent, I marvel at that fact. Raising a child with solid self-esteem, and the confidence to make up their own mind and think their own thoughts is a wonderful, beautiful, good thing. It should be every parent’s goal and driving motivation.
The world needs more independent thinkers, in my opinion. Copious amounts of blinding political correctness which usually morphs into large helpings of nepotism, strange bedfellows, nauseating spin, which in turn erodes or completely destroys any hopes of integrity, honesty, authenticity, transparency, responsibility, accountability — is quite frankly exhausting.
Just read the headlines on any platform in any given hour of any day. Independent thinkers remain the minority — stifled by seasoned brown-nosers, opportunists, comfortable conformists.
This is in no way an endorsement of outright unimpeded breaking of the rules. All I’m saying is people are entitled to an opinion and to being who they are and should not be afraid of reprimand or being ostracized because of either. Our differences add spice to life, after all, don’t they?
In fact, truly enlightened leaders usually want independent thinkers on their team because they know these individuals will provide a candid opinion, unfiltered, pure and raw. They know these individuals are usually secure in themselves. Take it or leave it. You don’t have to like it, but it does deserve respect.
If everyone on a team agrees all the time, where is the learning, growing, pushing of the envelope, development through discomfort, arrival to a better outcome resulting from competing opinions, a devil’s advocate presence, thoughts that contravene conventional wisdom or what everyone wants to hear.
No need to be controversial or confrontational but a little well-placed sandpaper usually does yield a smoother surface in the end, doesn’t it?
Don’t we as parents want our children to advocate for themselves, have an opinion and respect those of others, to be strong, independent thinkers?
I know I do.
To this day, I fundamentally do not understand peer pressure. Never did as a kid. Less so as an adult. Why in the world would I want to do something, anything, purely because someone else coerced me into doing it. If I make up my mind to follow a similar path as someone else, that is different. Feeling forced to follow the pack is pathetic, in my opinion. I have my own brain, thank you very much. And I know how to use it. Most days, anyway.
We tend to grind our teeth at politicians, business leaders or any other individual in the public domain who cannot stand up and make a decision on their own, even if that decision is unpopular but balanced. And yet, when someone does think independently, we opt to rake them over the coals, somehow for being mavericks — as if that is always bad or sinister.
Which brings us back to Mr. Subban.
The analysis of what precipitated the cutting of ties with one of the “faces of the franchise” will swirl for a while. His relationship with his coach (Michel Therrien), his impact on his Montreal Canadiens teammates, questions around leadership, distracting antics — the list is long and complex. None of us will ever truly know. Frankly, it is none of our business.
Of this though, we can all be sure. PK Subban will be just fine in Nashville or wherever else he may end up in the future. He will continue to be a polarizing figure with a large personality. Some people will get him, many others won’t. There will be throngs who will try to fit him into a category that they are familiar with and can manage, til they realize that category is different. After failed attempts at pigeon-holing him, they’ll end up not knowing what to do with him. Their problem, not his.
He is doing what he loves, what he’s passionate about. On top of that, he’s really good at his chosen profession. Sure, there’s room for growth and refinement — no different than any of us. Sure, channeling that confidence so it’s not viewed as cockiness and arrogance is a work in progress for him as it is for many others.
The bottom line is he is secure in himself. An assumption based on his behaviour which has always been consistent — when he was drafted, before he signed a large contract and ever since. Confident, self-assured, outspoken. And from what I can tell, he appears to be enjoying the fruits of his labour. Why shouldn’t he?
What you see is what you get. If you don’t agree, move aside and observe. There is always something to learn from people who dance to their own drum — whether you like their beat or not.
To read this article and more like it on HuffPost click here.