The New York City Opera is bankrupt. The GOP has put their foot down, so it’s not clear whether the USA is even open for business.  But that’s nothing.  Let’s talk about something really important.

Hockey is showing signs that it may be ready to grow up.  Every sport has a history of fisticuffs, ragged uniforms, shady relationships with gamblers and controversies over rules. At some point the crowd of ruffians get organized, and in the process legitimize their “game” into something more business-like. It can be quite beautiful.

I love many sports, but must single out two in particular.

  • I’ve watched hockey since I was a child, even if the game has changed in many ways.  I don’t watch it with the same passion because I feel the game needs to grow up…
  • I started watching football. While I used to be a stalwart CFL fan (and subscriber until i became exasperated with the tendency to let all the good players go), I’ve gradually been won over by the National Football League in the USA (who also play a couple of games here in Toronto & in London England by the way)

There are at least two inter-connect things I have long admired about the NFL.

They have been tinkering with the rules for as long as I can remember.  They do this in baseball too (once every now and then changing the strike-zone for example), but not with the ferocity of the NFL.  They are constantly changing their rule-book in the interest of a good game.

But where this gets really interesting is at the end of the season, when the playoffs begin.  What I most love about the NFL is that the rules are the same in January as they are in September.  A referee is expected to interfere in a game to stop a rule infraction even when the game is important.  Does that sound odd or strange?

But in the National Hockey League the rules that are called one way in the fall are forgotten at Stanley Cup playoff time.  As a result the Cup is a travesty.  Can you imagine a Superbowl where a rule is called differently than the way it’s called early in the year?   Of course not.  The game would be patently unfair.

But this is precisely how the NHL works.  Boston is perhaps the best example of this, a team that is a fair competitor suddenly emerges at playoff time, when truculent passive aggressive behaviour pays off.  Borderline interference that generates penalties in December or January is waived off in April or May.

I haven’t mentioned fighting, a kind of carnival side-show that is supposedly “part of the game”: even though it only happens when the game stops.  I suppose it’s part of hockey culture, which isn’t quite the same thing as being part of the game itself.

If fighting is part of the game, so too, head injuries & concussions.  Sidney Crosby is the most notable player in the NHL who reminds us that the game is dangerous, even if there were no fighting. Some would argue that without fighting there would be more head injuries, a claim that i think is false.  The NFL outlaws fighting, and just about every other kind of flagrant kind of behaviour.  A league’s culture can romanticize violence, or find a way to contain that violence within the rules, as the NFL does.

And now, as players are coming forward with their head injuries, the league can’t really ignore this anymore.  The NFL too has a lot of work to do, to ensure that our heroes don’t all end up with premature dementia or other sorts of disorders caused by their dangerous occupations.  I suppose we always knew that the high salaries are a kind of danger pay, that you wreck your knees and your back to say nothing of what the lifestyle does to you.

There are reports that the NHL is looking at banning fighting.  The reason they’re slow? Manhood issues and the box-office value of fighting in places (US markets in other words) where the game was sold on the basis of the side-show, not the game itself.  In fairness, the NHL has tried many rule-changes, with good intentions. But at playoff time it all gets watered down, when referees are unable to see muggings right in front of them, looking the other way.

Considering it?  Please.  Consider growing up, NHL.  Fights or no fights, the game should be the same at playoff time as in the exhibition season.

Grow a pair: all of you.

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1 Response to Headache

  1. Edward Brain says:

    The NHL needs to have a simple rule either way: fight and get thrown out of the game (and it does not matter if you were on the ice at the time or not, but don’t have a complex rule on fighting, i.e. Clarkson’s 10 game suspension) or ban fighting altogether.

    I do not agree with tampering with the rules all the time – I find it more frustrating at the start of a season to watch a game when the rules are changed again and again. Although if the goaltender is outside the crease, he is fair game (and only the goaltender is allowed in his crease.

    I would like to see some consistency, but overall I would like to see the game ‘open up’ entirely. Minor issues should not be called all the time unless necessary – let play continue and call the infraction at the end of the play regardless of who touches the puck. And if a player has not finished a penalty by the end of a game then he serves the penalty at the start of the next game (even if that means serving an entire two minutes right at the start of the game.

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