You probably know Raffi (Cavoukian, not Torres) from the albums you listened to as a child. The troubadour is behind some of the greatest children’s songs of all time, such as “Baby Beluga”, “Bananaphone”, and “Down by the Bay.”
Raffi is also the founder of The Centre for Child Honouring, a non-profit organization “Working for a better world for kids, a more peaceful society, and a planet that’s restored.” According to Raffi, “It’s for a good life [and] a world fit for children, so we can benefit the whole of society.”
Just recently, Raffi ventured into the world of hockey. He was the man behind the #MuteDonCherry tweet-up, a drive to quietly protest the CBC personality’s brash approach and propaganda by simply muting him. “Cherry is a pro-fight proponent of hockey violence,” Raffi said. “That’s indefensible. It sets a terrible example for kids. It stains a game of skill with brute intimidation.” The Twitter movement led to Raffi’s first two appearances on sports talk radio.
Raffi has been pointed, direct and convincing about the sport’s need to rid fighting from the game altogether. A hockey fan since the age of 10 when his family emigrated from Cairo, Egpyt to Toronto and his father served the family pie on Saturday nights when the Leafs scored, Raffi loves the game. He simply feels fighting has no place in it.
Raffi has been a Canucks fan since he moved from Toronto to Vancouver in 1990 and “caught the bug,” as he says. His current favourite players are “the whole team.” Since PITB makes a habit of chatting with Canuck fans of note, we decided to do exactly that, speaking with Raffi about the home team, subjectivity in the hockey media, and what fighting in the game teaches our kids.
So let’s talk about your anti-fighting stance, because I agree with it. Between Daniel and I, who run Pass it to Bulis, I’m definitely more of a pacifist when it comes to hockey fighting, which is ironic, because he’s a Mennonite and very much a pacifist in real-life.
How does he do that in his own mind, does he split himself up? Because that kind of goes to the heart of what we’re talking about here, you know? These values don’t exist in silos, and hockey culture is part of society. I think it impacts how people think more than they give consideration. How does Daniel do that, if he’s a pacifist and he’s a Mennonite, is it that hockey is giving his latent aggression some expression or something? What’s going on?
We’ve talked about it before and he said that a lot of it had to do with the fact that it’s not like real life. Whereas, in real-life, if a guy like Matt Cooke is a jerk to you, you can’t just punch him a bunch of times. I think that the visceral reaction to seeing justice get served, so to speak, is something that really appeals to him. And I think it appeals to a lot of people. [Editor's note: Daniel's perspective is much better represented here.]
My comment is that justice does not get served, revenge does. Big difference. And secondly, it is real-life because the injured player has to go to a hospital, get stitched up or worse, have surgery. The family’s affected, he’s affected, if it’s an injury that’s harmful to the brain through repeated fisticuffs — and we know that this is a reality, I’m using the word reality here — you tell me which part of this is not real life.
The thought that hockey and professional hockey isn’t part of real life, that itself is a fantasy. It doesn’t bear scrutiny.
What would your response be, then, to the people who say, if it’s just the threat of injury, those sorts of things happen on hits and all of the other play that goes along with the physicality of hockey?
With hockey you’re gonna get a certain number of injuries, it’s just gonna happen because you’re on ice, you’re on skates, the stick’s gonna come up, pucks are flying at very fast speeds, and there’s some body contact. Now wouldn’t it be really smart of us to minimize the injuries to just that—the unavoidable accidents?
And the question I would ask your audience is, do we agree that the aim in hockey should not be to hurt another, it shouldn’t be to harm another, can we agree on that? Because if we can’t agree on that we’re in trouble. The aim in a hockey game should not be to injure, and that’s the spirit of non-violence with which I would seek to pacify the game. And I’m using my words consciously here.
It does not take away at all the excitement of a hockey game, the thrill of victory, the thrill of excellence, sportsmanship, which is actually a really elevated, wonderful feeling in the brain and the heart and all over. If you take the overt violence out of it, there’s just a natural sort of competition that’s gonna arise. We see it in the Olympics. We see it when our fantastic national women’s team — which I’m a real fan of — when they take to the ice. It’s fabulous, and you don’t miss it [violence] in those situations. I really wonder whether people are addicted to the adrenaline of violence.
Could be. Despite my stance, I will admit I get excited when two guys drop the gloves. There is that visceral reaction. Does that ever happen to you?
I get disgusted by it. I turn away. I don’t want that. I want those guys ejected at the first hint of a fight, because I don’t like how the rules are. I don’t like the fact that fighting even exists in hockey. I think it has no place in the game. During the whole ugly phase of the NHL when you had the Philadelphia Flyers called the Broad Street Bullies, I was so disgusted that I tuned out for quite a long time.
Okay, then I have a question: That 1976 game between the Flyers and the Red Army, where the Russians left the ice… Canadian talk about that like it was a crowning moment for us. Like the Russians were weak and we showed them. What’s your take on that?
What a juvenile attitude that is. Everybody is playing politics in these games, so I understand their move. Understandable, given what the heck they were facing. Again, I’ll come back to: what is the point of a hockey game? Is it for brute force to prevail? Is that why these hockey players strap on their skates and get out there?
*laughter*… I laugh because it’s so absurd. It’s not about brute force, so why pretend it is? It’s about the skills in the game, so if you’re team isn’t skilled, so they’ve got to resort to brute force to gain the upper hand, then what does victory mean? It’s hollow.
Seems like a good lead-in to the talk about the Stanley Cup Final. I remember, after the Canucks were up 2-0, Justin Bourne tweeted that the Bruins weren’t out of the series, they just had to turn these games ugly. And he wasn’t wrong, as it turns out. That’s what they did and that’s how the series wound up swinging in their favour. What is your take on that? Because it’s the same basic narrative as the Flyers versus the Red Army. The Canucks were weak, and so on.
I’m gonna use the Don Cherry word: “Beauty”. I wanna ask this question: where’s the beauty in ugly? Ugly stinks. It has no place in the game. It maims and it injures. It’s a terrible example to kids. Look, in the Cup Final, what upset me so much — and it happens every playoffs, and this is a critique I have of the NHL and the way it handles its officiating corps… it is ridiculous for a sport not to have the integrity of an officiating corps dedicated to calling every infraction. If you waver on that, where’s the integrity of the game? What, in some games we’re gonna call it more closely and others not? This is patent nonsense. How does this inspire confidence in the fans? What does that say to children? “Dad, he just crosschecked that guy and he didn’t give him a penalty?” “Mom, did you see that slash Thomas gave on that guy who wasn’t in the crease? He got no penalty.” This drives kids crazy. They don’t understand it.
I think a lot of adults don’t understand it, I certainly don’t understand it.
That’s what I’m saying to you, there’s no explanation for it. You have a rule book. Call every single infraction and you will see that crap — the cheap shots and that stuff — come down because every time you do it you’ll hurt your team. There’s always gonna be grey zones and I understand that, but your intention from the outset should be clear: it should be transparent by the league that this is how we’re gonna call the games. Otherwise it’s not fair to anybody.
In no other pro sport, when the playoffs come around, does the officiating change.
What about the concern that calling every infraction slows the game down? I think, as refreshing as it was to see the refs use their whistles a little more in last Saturday’s game versus the Bruins, it didn’t quite have the same pace as some of the Final games because of that.
Yeah, but it didn’t lose intensity at all. Obviously, if the league tomorrow made the decision that they were gonna call everything, the first little while, you’re gonna see a lot of infractions, a lot of penalties, because they’re just getting used to that transition. but very soon you’d see a new normal in the game, where the guys who do this kind of stuff, they wouldn’t do it because they’re gonna hurt their team. The point is, there’s a rule book, and you Law and Order types out there, I’m appealing to you. Use the rulebook.
You’re Raffi, so you have to know your comments on violence in hockey are always going to be brushed aside as peacenik ranting, especially among the rough-and-tumble sports crowd. Do you think that’s a fair criticism? What makes a children’s singer equipped to talk about the game?
I’m a longtime fan. I love the game. I’m also a systems thinker, I see things in whole, I think big picture. That said, as a citizen fed up with violence masquerading as entertainment, I have every right to speak out. As a children’s advocate, it’s my duty. As a peace advocate, again, it’s my duty.
I just really love the game, and I know this conversation stirs passion. I really appreciate those people who can engage the dialogue without being abusive, without hurling insults, and we’re Canadians. We’re peacemakers. We oughta think about that. We can make peace on and off the ice. Tribal loyalty is a wonderful thing, but when it goes too far, descends into family feuds, that can be harmful and I think we can transcend the tribal loyalty feeling — it’s a natural feeling, but we can transcend that feeling with an elevated sense of what the game is.
Sometimes when I watch, you know, you’re watching the game, and you can just clue in to your team and what they’re doing, and be bummed out about what they’re doing, whatever. If you kind of just pull back from that way of thinking, and look at both teams and what they’re doing, you see a different game.
I agree. I think that’s a big thing that’s been going on right now with the Boston and Vancouver fans. We see two completely different games.
Yeah. If you just, sometimes, just for a minute, key in on what the other team’s trying to do, almost as if you were their fans, you appreciate their skills, what they’re trying to do tactically and so on. We can enjoy the whole game even as we cheer on our favourite team.
I think for a lot of people that’s really difficult to do. It’s difficult, first of all, to admit that you have a bias, and then to wrestle your mind way from it. Do you really think it’s just as simple as pulling back and watching the other team?
I think it’s a good exercise, and it gets better with practice. You just get a different take on the game because it is a game and that’s what I want to stress over and over again. This is a game to be enjoyed, right?
One thing that we really speak out about over at PITB is the subjective coverage that we get from both sides, becasue I think that it causes a lot of these difficulties. Rather than reporting on the game in an objective, unbiased way, we get slant for our fanbase. I mean, it’s what people want, but it feeds into this issue.
I think fans deserve more than that.
I agree. And I think that this whole media battle between Boston and Vancouver is a product of two biased medias.
Let us be the peacemakers. Let the Canadian side be the peacemakers, and if they want to descend into something else, let’s not engage.
When asked about the impact he’s had on my generation, Raffi said, “If my Centre had $25 for every time a fan told me how much my music meant to them as a child, we’d have ample funding.” But that hasn’t happened, so if you want to contribute to the Center for Child Honouring, please do so here. And be sure to Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.