THE OPTION | Some might say Jaromir Jagr is on the wrong side of 45, but the old man is still wheeling.
The biggest stars in the National Hockey League usually start slowing down in their early to mid-thirties, and most retire before they hit forty. The few who continue past this point, tend to spend the latter portion of their career getting shredded by much younger, faster players. It's painful to watch, but very few leave world of professional sports gracefully. Whether these players go the Chris Pronger route and become injury-plagued cash syphons or they go the Chris Chelios route and gradually degenerate into a shell of their former selves, one thing is clear: time catches up with everyone, no matter how talented.
In a little less than three months, Jaromir Jagr will be 46-years-old. This makes him the third oldest player to ever start for an NHL team. On top of this, he's almost five years older than the next oldest guy (Matt Cullen) currently playing. The thing about Jagr is, he's still good. Since his return from hiatus at age 39, Jagr hasn't posted less than 35 points (goals and assists) in a single season. He's certainly slowed down, but his movement is now more deliberate, more focused. In his time, Jagr has seen every trick and every possible goal iteration. He knows exactly where to be on every play and, more importantly, he knows how to get there without expending too much energy. Please allow for a video demonstration:
Here, we have Jagr at 20-years-old. It's the 1992 Stanley Cup and he's an absolute mad man with the puck, cutting quickly and dancing through the defense.
Nowadays, Jagr plays at a much slower pace, carefully choosing the perfect moment to strike. This is him absolutely undressing John Gibson in February of 2017. In this video, he's 45.
Jaromir Jagr has the second highest career points total in NHL history, behind only Wayne Gretzky. He's third in total goals scored, fifth in total assists, and fourth in total games played. Still, despite his legendary status, Jagr's return to the NHL has been an odyssey of sorts. Since 2011, the Czech-born superstar has bounced between six different teams, the 2017-2018 season marking his first with the Calgary Flames. This most recent signing followed a tumultuous free agency in which Jagr's patience was tested. He inked his new contract hours before the NHL season took off and there was plenty of speculation that the entirety of the NHL was going to pass on him. In the defense of the league's general managers, a five million dollar, one-year contract for a 45 year old is a ludicrous ask. That being said, Jagr still has flashes of greatness, and is a once in generation talent. Even if his playing takes a sharp dip, Jagr still has a lot to offer the younger guys he plays with. Left winger Johnny Gaudreau has attributed a lot of his recent success to Jagr's tutelage, saying that Jagr teaches him about the "little things that make you a better player day-in and day-out." Gaudreau is currently in third place in the NHL's points race.
Following the 2015-16 season, in which Jagr became the oldest player to get more than 50 points, the Czech national stated that he wants to play until he's 60, longer if his body allows him to. That's all well and good, but the old timer had a recent scare this past October when he left the game with a lower body injury. The injury turned out to be nothing serious and Jagr only missed a few games, but it's the way in which he was injured that's concerning. While skating into the offensive zone, Jagr was stick checked and lost the puck. Moments later he skated off the ice and went into the locker room. It was about as routine a hockey play as one can imagine, and Jagr still missed over a week because of it. There's a chance that this injury was nothing, as Jagr played almost every game over the past two years, but it still begs the question, is age finally catching up with him?
There's no workout plan that can reverse the effects of time. There're no drills that can fix tired and overworked muscles. Eventually, Jagr will have to retire. Playing into his sixties is almost certainly impossible, but Jagr still has a chance to pass Gordie Howe's record (52) for the oldest NHL player of all time. He's not thinking about this though and he's not done with hockey. In an interview with Sports Net, Jagr stated "the only way you get tired with hockey is when you don't work hard enough and you play the game and you kind of embarrass yourself." Plenty of players before him have stayed at it too long and have, as Jagr so elegantly put it, embarrassed themselves. Plenty of older players skate sluggishly up the ice, never quite involved in the game, full strides behind their competitors but not Jagr. Not yet. The 2017-18 season is young, but Jagr is on pace to hit somewhere near 40 points this season. He's not the quickest guy on the ice nor is he the strongest but Jagr's experience has allowed him to hang around much longer than any of his contemporaries. Sakic, Bure, Selanne, Kariya, Koivu, and plenty of other greats from Jagr's generation have long since hung up their skates. Jagr is the last man standing.
In 1999, Wayne Gretzky played for the New York Rangers. He lost his final game in overtime. Jaromir Jagr scored the game winner. For many, this contest symbolized a passing of the torch, one great being succeeded by the next man in line. Now Jagr is the old goat and he's still clinging to that torch. Whether he passes it on in storybook fashion like Gretzky or he grips it so tight that it slips through his fingers, remains to be seen. Either way, Jagr's contributions to the game of hockey can't be measured in goals scored. He's the last of his era and has constantly reinvented the game throughout his career. Whether this is his last season, or Jagr plays into 50s doesn't really matter. He's got nothing left to prove. Don't tell him that though. He still wants another cup.
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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