Last week, the NHL's Montreal Canadiens
, struggling with numerous injuries, underperforming stars, and a 13-11-7 record, fired head coach Jacques Martin
. They replaced him with Randy Cunneyworth, the head coach of their farm team
in Hamilton, Ontario. Cunneyworth is a former NHL defenseman and a blue-chip coaching prospect, but there's one problem: he doesn't speak French.
In hockey-mad Montreal, the Habs (as the Canadiens are colloquially called) are, as FC Barcelona is in Spain, "more than a club
". The team is an institution, serving as the champions of a Québécois minority that has had sometimes-strained relations
with Anglophone Canada. The club was specifically formed to appeal to the French Canadian market
and, until the 1960's, had exclusive rights to nearly every Francophone hockey prospect.
Given this place in Quebec's culture, it's not surprising that an uproar among some Francophones began after Cunneyworth's hiring. Francophone media are up in arms.
Quebec's culture minister, Christine St-Pierre, is calling on the Habs to fix the problem
. Montreal's city council devoted time to the question
yesterday. And two separatist groups are planning a protest
, claiming that Cunneyworth's hiring is one more offense in a long line of Anglicization that includes Anglophone pop music and bilingual announcements in the Habs' arena and the increasing lack of French Canadian players on the team.
The controversy raises an interesting question: to what extent should sports teams - generally understood to be corporations operating on profit motive alone - reflect the culture of the place they play?