/ by Greg Gallinger

Pacifying the NHL

Raffi Cavoukian, writing at Rabble.ca

Hockey is a kids’ game turned into fierce contest by professional athletes, and at the NHL level it’s a tough, high flying, contact sport. Fast skating and booming shots make for exciting play, but they also bring injuries from pucks, sticks, falls, unavoidable collisions as well as body checks. All the more reason, in my view, to limit injuries to just that-the unavoidable accidents-without prompting players to harm one another in the name of toughness. That’s just stupid, and dangerous. It maims, and can kill…

The focus on rough and tumble hockey takes its toll: NHL teams are plagued with a rash of injuries, their player rosters get depleted and miss star players. Recently, concussions have knocked out some top NHL players, none more so than Sidney Crosby who’s been out for months and is not slated for return any time soon. With all due respect to Canada’s military families and their undoubted sacrifice, there’s a strong case to be made for letting a game be a game, and restoring Saturday NHL telecasts to “hockey night” in Canada. Not fight night, goon night, or injury night. Not politics night. Hockey night.

From what I can tell Raffi is mistaking two different issues: NHL endorsement of militarism and jingoist attitudes; and injuries to players as the result of violent hits and fighting.

Although I agree that the NHL is much too supportive of the military and uses every opportunity to promote a nationalistic agenda, I don’t think that has anything to do with the physicality of the game, or fighting.

Armed Forces nights with opening ceremonies featuring soldiers repelling from the arena rafters and intermission commentary about Afghanistan is more to blame for the jingoism of the game.

The physicality, and the “rough and tumble” aspect of hockey is what separates the NHL from other leagues. It’s true that no one felt there was anything missing from the last Olympic hockey finals, but none-the-less, NHL fans have come to expect a faster, higher calibre game, that is highly physical. Professional athletes assume a certain amount of risk when they sign their contracts. Injury is part of their profession. Ask most of them and they will tell you that you can’t remove fighting and hitting from the game without changing the competitiveness. Even with fighting out of the game, injuries would still be an issue, as the majority of injuries are as a result of on ice accidents, not fighting. Sydney Crosby wasn’t punched into a coma, he was clipped in an unfortunate centre ice collision.

Instead of pretending violence doesn’t exist and turning hockey into something it’s not, the league should be educating its fans that there is a distinction between warfare and sport. Rules can be adjusted to attempt to make the league safer (see Brendan Shanahan’s new role), and sportsmanship should be encouraged by coaches.

Cassius Clay proved that not all boxers are blood thirsty goons when he famously refused as a conscientious objector to fight in Vietnam. So too can hockey players prove that even if they drop the gloves they are not endorsing military actions or promoting violence off the ice.