NHL: A Game for Barbarians?
A follow-up to yesterday’s post about violence in sports and why we tolerate it.
Back on April 11th, in the third period of game one of the first round playoff game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators, with Nashville up 3-2 and 5 seconds left in the game and a face off deep in Predator’s territory, Predator defenseman Shea Weber checked Red Wing center Henrik Zetterberg hard into the boards behind the Predator’s net, punched him in the back of the head and then, putting his hand on Zetterberg’s upper neck, slammed Zetterberg’s head into the glass.
NHL apologists – those people who like the fighting and excuse the animal-like behavior of these thugs on skates – excuse fighting and justify fighting as part of the sport on the basis of the game being too fast and emotional to not allow players the opportunity to let off steam every once in a while. Sadly, it seems that when you allow fighting, things like Henrik Zetterberg getting his head rammed into the glass with such force that the impact cracked his helmet, also become acceptable.
Acceptable? By my definition, no. In the real world, a guy like Shea Weber would be in jail. In the NHL’s world, and in President of Hockey and Business Development and head disciplinarian for the NHL Brendan Shanahan’s world (a thug himself during his playing days), the penalty for assault and trying to maim or kill someone is a measly $2,500 which amounts to little more han a slap on the wrist in the world of professional sports.
What a wonderful message to send to players and fans: We really couldn’t care less about player safety as long as the fans have something to cheer about between periodic demonstrations of athletic ability by the real hockey players on the ice.
By allowing Weber to continue playing professional hockey, the NHL is sending a message that it’s just fine to play dirty. They’re telling players that should you happen to find yourself needing to “let off some steam” you go right ahead and vent. Should you intentionally try and injure, cripple or kill someone in the process, go right ahead, we approve. Oh, and that Department of Player Safety and its mandate to protect players? Yeah, well that’s just a sham to try and make us seem like a respectable sport. And by watching these thugs on skates play, by paying their salaries and wearing their jerseys, we’re sending the message that not only do we not care, but we enjoy it. Go ahead and fight because we approve.
I think it’s a sad situation when the lines between right and wrong, between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior, have grown so blurred that not only has good sportsmanship stopped being a reality, but that in pursuit of championships and entertainment and satisfying our blood lust, we – players and fans alike – are willing to sacrifice all sense of humaneness. Talk about selling one’s soul. Go ahead and do it, we don’t care. Just keep us entertained. What a sad state of affairs when we’ve reached that point that nothing is wrong just because everyone says it’s right.
To the apologists who say that Weber was simply playing good, hard-nosed hockey, that he was playing for position, and his play was just a part of hockey, I say that it was dirty hockey. It was an unprovoked attack from behind against a defenseless opponent and that’s cowardly and unprofessional.
Fortunately for lovers of the game of hockey, this type of barbaric behavior isn’t allowed at the high school, college or Olympic level and my recommendation is to watch those games and support those teams. Why those players have self-control and NHL players don’t is a mystery to me.
To the people who love hockey but reject the NHL because of their continued encouragement and support for fighting, I’m with you. For the fans who like the game for the fighting, I’d recommend pro-wrestling instead because you don’t have to sit around bored waiting for the next fight to break out to give you something to cheer about.
Comments are always welcome!