“I did not have sexual relations with that woman…”
President Bill Clinton
That’s the voice I heard throughout this book. The nice guy, the type guy who buys the cool fourth of July fireworks and shoots them off for the kids so they don’t get burned. But ….but…..but… She said…. She claimed….She alleges….. He walks away. He didn’t. He hasn’t. He wouldn’t. He’d never. Or would he?
A hockey town in a forest in Sweden is never the same after the night of a teenage party just before a big hockey tournament. The star player is taken away by the police just as the team leaves, a week later, for the tournament. Did he or didn’t he?
Beartown, a sort of rust-belt town pinning all its hopes for revival on a youth hockey team’s rise to the finals. A leading player, regarded as NHL-worthy, is the shining star. He is the son of well-off parents, lives in the right part of town. Failure is not an option in his family. The town adores him.
The hockey club manager’s daughter fakes being sick. She wears bulky clothes, secretly rids herself of the clothes she wore that night. She hides. “This way he can only hurt me,” she tells herself.
The team bands together. It’s for the star player. We must stay tight. You are nobody alone. The child of a refugee, finally a member of the team, must decide how far loyalty goes. A mom at a breaking point. A bar owner who won’t take crap. They all have a choice to make. The player in the center of it all–what will he do?
The hockey team sponsors and parents gather together. They want the Hockey Club manager fired. His daughter–HIS DAUGHTER–has ruined everything. She is the one who went to the police–a week later!
“But why didn’t she go immediately–she must be lying.”
“Have you seen the jeans these girls wear today?”
“It’s so confusing for guys …”
“Did she go up the stairs first?”
“Did she make her feelings–her supposed NO–clear?”
“They can’t scream rape every time their affections are rejected.”
“We all know X–he’d NEVER do that. She’s lying. Trying to get attention.”
“She doesn’t want her parents to know what she was up to so she lied.”
“The boy.” “The young WOMAN.”
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What I Liked–what was truly accurate
I grew up in a rust-bet town in Indiana. We once had an NBA-worthy basketball star [who behaved himself]. He played Division I college basketball and missed the ’76 Olympics due to a wrist injury. I guarantee you there are still more people in that town who can tell you his name and some of his stats than can tell you who the Vice President is. Even though, the Vice President, too, is from Indiana.
I say this all because Backman nails the culture of small town sports, the hero worship of an outstanding young athlete. The kids and adults who want to ride his coattails to a better place. The adults who make cars or nebulous “jobs” available to let the kid live his dream in style. Or who move a family from low rent to high rent so the kid can play on a better team. “No problem–you’ll be in the NBA, just send me tickets.”
All of this is why I did not want my daughter to be a cheerleader. After all, who takes first dibs on cheerleaders? Athletes. Never mind that most would not do anything out of line. There are always some guys who fail to get the decency memo, who wouldn’t recognize or accept the word “No” if it was shined in their eyes in neon letters. They’ve “earned it.” Just like the fraternity boys on campus, or the college athletes or NBA or NFL or NHL or MLB stars. They’ve “earned” the women. Whether the woman were told or not.
Anyone who has watched a moment of college or overtly pro sports in the USA knows there is corruption. We understand that there are matters swept under the rug. Oh yes, the NCAA levels recruiting violations and other ethics charges. Pro teams cringe and do damage control and occasionally even cut lose an athlete caught beating his wife senseless or having “non-consensual sex” [never the “r” word] with a fan or groupie.
But how many of those incidents ever make it to the press? College athletes and fraternity boys (often one and the same) have created a culture of rape, date-rape and sexual assault on many campuses. Yet the girl still gets blamed. 60 women come forth with the same story, but the famous actor gets a hung jury and a mistrial. Because we “know” him. He’s nice. He wouldn’t do that. Just like those frat boys from the “best families” wouldn’t do that. Just like that rags-to-riches athlete from the “bad” neighborhood would never let his own celebrity status go to his head and make him “know” he’d “earned” “it” whenever he wanted it. Whether the girl said yes or not.
The culture of rap music, of locker room banter, of generation upon generation of dirty talk and disrespect of women wink, wink, nudge, nudge, hubba-hubba. Hockey, the locker room teaches, is for guys. “If a girl likes hockey she’s a lesbian. If she likes hockey players she’s a slut.” The girls all want “it” is the other lesson it teaches. “No” can mean–hell, it often means, “yes, please.” Ha-ha.
What happens when MEN, yes MEN, stand up and say “No More?” Who knows. It rarely happens. The men who think like that aren’t always interested in sports. I loved the boy in the story who asks his Dad if it is crazy to wait till marriage to have sex. Is it crazy to want it to mean something? To not want to just f-*k? The Dad is unnerved by this. Still he manages, very weakly, to affirm his son’s views. The lesson though is clear: No man wants his son to be the last male virgin–too much a reflection on Dad.
And the alleged perpetrator’s Dad–the boy’s Dad (it’s always a boy who gets accused by a woman–note the difference), throwing his weight and money around trying to buy loyalty. But when you’ve been a refugee you know there are worse things in life than not playing hockey or working in a crummy job that makes your back hurt. How much loyalty can be bought? Is money for great skates enough? Can you gain loyalty thru Intimidation? Well?
Apparently in Sweden it’s same stuff, different country because this book shows the lengths people will go to to justify unacceptable behavior by some guy who can slap a puck or sink a shot or score a touchdown that would never be allowed by anyone just grunting away earning a degree in biology and filling a work-study job.
Oh, and that’s just the first part of the book. The ending…..No spoilers. None.
Summary and Rating
4 out of 5 stars
This should be mandatory reading for every sports nut, every youth sports league, every booster club in the country. Beyond this country. Every. Single. One.
Beartown by Fredrik BackmanEmbed from Getty Images