NHL, Violence and Sports Entertainment

June 11th, 2011 | Posted in Commentary
By: D'Arcy McGrath

The world of media is notorious for getting stuck on one track, and refusing to budge off of it.

A writer, often one that doesn’t follow the subject at hand all that closely will scribe an opinion piece that garners attention, and suddenly journalists will fall all over themselves to rewrite the same opinion over and over and over again to the point that it no longer makes sense.

A number of years ago the Flames traded Rob Niedermayer to the Ducks at the deadline, with the Ducks going on to the Stanley Cup Final. A writer (can’t remember which one) wrote that Niedermayer was the driving force behind the Duck’s playoff romp and that became a spreading opinion. Soon the Matheson’s and Strachan’s of the world charmed in with “steal of a trade”, “what were the Flames thinking?” and on and on it went.

The truth?

He scored three goals in 21 games. Three. He was Shean Donovan (Donovan scored 5 goals in the Flames playoff run in 2004 by the way)

Today the issue that has created pulp fiction is hockey and violence.

Last week Sports Illustrated ran a story on their website beside a picture of Nathan Horton lying on his back. The caption “Spiralling Out of Control”. This on an open ice hit that happened in a game played at a speed that rivals no other.

This in a world where pitchers purposely throw a hard ball at another player to send a message, football players use late and weak side hits to “chop block” and destroy knees, and basketball players enter the crowd to engage in brawls; that is when they’re not suspended for bringing fire arms to stadiums.

Really?

Oh and the fastest rising sport in North America? Mixed Martial Arts or Ultimate Fighting Challenge; a combined phoenix that does away with the tradition of boxing and just strips guys down to fight in a cage with millions watching.

But hockey has to clean their act up?

Really?

Now to back up a tad I want to make it very clear; I’m not slagging any of the sports above. Baseball is a game on inches and a brush back pitch is part of the game. A guy misses and it’s pretty hard to ascertain intent at the heat of the moment. Football is a brutal, gruelling game, and much like hockey it’s easy to get a hit “wrong” and hurt someone. While UFC isn’t my thing I can’t really argue with it’s popularity and I certainly don’t have a problem with the basis of what it brings.

But hockey is spiralling out of control?

Really?

Given the world of marketing it surprises me that the NHL hasn’t sat down behind closed doors to figuere out a way to get hockey to the state that it sits in this Stanley Cup Final every night. Two teams that hate each other and have a terrible time not showing it every time they get a whistle. It’s entertaining. If you cheer for the Bruins your blood boils when Kesler or Burrows get their gloves in someone’s face and then turn away. If your a Vancouver fan (shudder) you think Marchand is the anti-Christ.

It’s drama. There is no need to take passion out of a sport.

I’d never advocate staged fights, or enticement of over the top hockey violence (Bertuzzi, McSorely, etc), there is no place for that in the game. But is there a more entertaining moment watching your team play hockey than when both teams hate each other, calls are getting missed, some dirty SOB from the other side keeps getting away with something, every whistle results in a face wash, and you can feel a “simmer” at all times between both clubs?

Gold!

A lot of this current “crisis” (everything has to be a crisis these days) started with the Chara hit in April. Should he fact that a man that size hurt someone in a sport played at high speed but surrounded with hard walls really come as a surprise? Is the fact that Aaron Rome was one steamboat too late when he hit Nathan Horton really a shock?

The league needs to educate it’s players on what is and what isn’t tolerated as it should protect their players. They need to look seriously as altering equipment to increase the number of shoulder separations and bruised elbows and diminish the number of concussions.

But the league as a whole has to stop apologizing to the planet for being the most entertaining sport in said planet.

They need to ignore those that have an agenda and will criticize regardless of what they admit, agree to, or alter.

They need to find the voice of the market they are serving; the hockey fan.

This market; the fans, love this stuff.

And maybe just maybe we like it spiralling out of control.


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