Chuq Von Rospach is a Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management and amateur photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and landscapes. My goal is to explore the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found. You can find out more on the About Page.
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Monthly Archives: March 2004
If you haven’t been watching the comments on this posting, you should take a few minutes to read them. A fascinating cross-section of hockey fandom weighing in on Todd Bertuzzi’s mugging of Steve Moore.
As it turns out, Moore has a broken neck, a severe concussion, and facial lacerations. On the plus side, he’s still breathing, which, with a fracture at C3, is far from a given. When (or if) he’ll return to hockey is unknown. In return, Bertuzzi loses about $500,000 (US), is a spectator for the rest of the season and playoffs (and potentially longer, depending on Gary Bettman’s moods), and has issues a tearful and heartfelt apology (which I fully believe was honest).
But it’s too damn bad Bertuzzi didn’t feel a bit bad BEFORE he almost killed Moore — and make no mistake, he came very close.
It’s worse, though, that the NHL has created an environment that allows these kind of, um, mistakes to happen. Ultimately, Bertuzzi and his temper pulled this particular trigger — but the NHL is driving the getaway car, and planned the job. Worse, right now, any number of people involved in the NHL are making public statements about Bertuzzi, condemning the action and supporting the suspension, but then quietly looking over their shoulder and wondering what it’ll take to allow Bertuzzi to play in the World Cup, or World Championships. Just exactly what kind of message does that send, anyway?
The answer to that is simple: if you win, if you’re good, if you can change a game or make a difference — then we’ll find a way to work it out. Winning, ultimately, is more important than rules, than ethics, than setting limits, than makeing a statement, than Steve Moore’s neck — or Steve Moore’s life.
There’s another name that comes to my mind when I think about how the league responded to Bertuzzi. It’s not Marty McSorley, and it’s not Eddie Shore, and it’s not Maurice Richard, or Bryan Marchment, or any of the other excitable boys who play NHL hockey on the edge.
It’s Graham James. A serial sexual predator who preyed on young boys who dreamed of hockey careers. Who was put into positions of power over these boys, because he won, by management who either turned a blind eye to things that they should have seen, or who quietly allowed James to move on before the problems became too noticable. It wasn’t until a player finally had the courage to go public that he was convicted and jailed — and many defended James to the very end, and still defend him — because he’s a great coach that wins hockey games. (last I heard, James was coaching in spain — coaching boys, “under supervision”. Hopefully better supervision than his bosses gave him in Swift Current and Calgary).
Currently, some people around Vancouver are rallying support around Bertuzzi. There are “free todd” web sites, there’s a lot of rationalization of the hit. Very scary, very disappointing, not surprising. After all, Bertuzzi is very important to the Canucks (and as someone who watches the Canucks a lot, he’s a very good and interesting-to-watch player).
But why is all that dialog surrounded by “Bertuzzi shouldn’t have done that, but…” (followed by bitching at the league for the length of suspension, bitching at Moore for, as far as I can tell, not willingly submitting to being a victim earlier in the game, or, in the words of Don “please, retire before you embarass yourself further” Cherry, it was the coaches fault for not putting Todd Worrell out there, presumably to beat up anyone who wanted to exact havoc on Moore, as if that solves anything here.
Why is nobody in these camps saying “Bertuzzi shouldn’t have done it — and it’s his fault for doing it because he should have known better”? It’s as if a player that good can’t actually be guilty of doing something this bad (unlike McSorley, who was old, washed up, and easily tossed to the puritans for cleansing) — so someone else has to be to blame? Bertuzzi chased him down, Bertuzzi sucker punched him from behind, Bertuzzi fell on him.
Bertuzzi broke his neck. And Bertuzzi was the one player who could have prevented that, simply by not doing what he did. Everything else is a horrible rationalization that shows what’s really flawed about our love of (and attachment to) sports — and I include myself in that as a hockey fan. Apologies, no matter how heartfelt, won’t unbreak Moore’s neck. Self-control would have. Bertuzzi, the NHL, and far too many of the league’s power brokers — and fans — seem to have forgotten that.
The NHL is honestly aghast when players are injured in this way; yet they do nothing to prevent it. Sure, they get righteous and suspend players for significant periods after the injury happens; what has the league done to keep these injuries from occurring?
Nothing. Call it the code, that unwritten set of rules players use to justify things the rules don’t. Or boys will be boys, or let them play.
I find it very hard to be a hockey fan today, given what the league finds acceptable behavior, and how the people in charge of hockey are rationalizing away allowing this kind of behavior while pretending to condemn it (um, are you sure we can’t get Bertuzzi eligible for the World Championships? It’d really help Team Canada).
The league, ultimately, is responsible for this injury — because the league sets acceptable levels of behavior within the game. And because the league has chosen to allow the code, to buy into the fallacy of boys will be boys, the rock’em’sock’em mentality. By handcuffing referees with fraudulent ideas like don’t decide the game (which, by causing referees to not call penalties at key moments, merely biases the results to those that push the limits and stretch the rules — it still decides the game).
The league could have prevented this injury, simply by choosing to draw a line in the sand that says your behavior is unacceptable at a point before tempers flare so far that people get so angry and so stupid that bad things happen. But they don’t. They wait until someone gets hurt — then draw a line and say you went too far. If the league would get serious about shutting down tempers before they get out of hand, if they get serious about suspensions and penalties that players and teams can’t ignore — this will stop. Stop quickly, too. The league finally got tired of bench clearing brawls and instituted mandatory, long, suspensions — and when was the last time you saw one? Players aren’t stupid. the league sets the tone, and the players follow it.
And frankly, the league is saying “it’s okay, until someone gets hurt”. And unfortunately, by doing so, people get hurt. The lines need to be drawn and enforced such that tempers never get that far out of control. But, well, boys will be boys. But boys have learned not to clear the bench, right?
No, the reality is, those who run the league support the kind of play that leads to what happened here. they may say they don’t — but don’t listen to their words, listen to their actions. I’m not saying they want people to get hurt; but they’re clearly unwilling to fix the problems that lead to it.
A couple of days ago, the Sharks and Kings played. There are major playoff implications here, both teams are hungry, and they don’t like each other. It started out early very physical, very intense, fast, banging. The referees (led by veteran Rob Shick) got involved early and called a number of penalties.
The end result? both sides played some damn good hockey, no brawling, not a lot of stupid play. it was a great game to watch — and on the Sharks list, Shick was bitched at by a couple of users for calling ticky-tack penalties. Those penalties, though, kept the game calmed down and under control, kept tempers from flaring, and forced the players to play hockey. I thought he and the crew did a fine job of keeping the game focussed on hockey, not on thuggery or tempers; but few refs seem to have the guts to do that, and the league doesn’t demand it, or support them when they do — because the fans scream about ticky-tacky penalties, and the coaches and GMs whine about the referees deciding the game.
The league will never become a serious presence in the US market until it figures this out. it’s one of the things killing the NBA, slowly, one uncalled travelling after another (I’ve tried to watch a couple of NBA games recently. Is that what they think is good basketball today? jesus).
Can you imagine the NFL where holding wasn’t called in the fourth quarter because a penalty might decide the game? No, in the NFL, if it’s a penalty in the first quarter, they do a pretty good job of making it a penalty in the fourth, and when they miss it, it’s human error, not judgment or letting the boys play. But that is not only a tolerated attitude in the NHL — it’s the primary one.
It’s a big reason the push into the US by the NHL has stalled and failed. Fighting is another key issue here (but another argument — fighting and gooning/thuggery are separate problems), but you could leave fighting in the game and still take this kind of crap out of it.
Anthony Wilson-Smith is editor of Macleans , Canada’s newsweekly. In the March 22 issue, he summed it up wonderfully:
The NHL is unwilling to see itself as others see it. Under Bettman, it’s tried desperately to be perceived as a major sport in the U.S. — and failed, in part because its reputation for gratuitous violence leads to the NHL being seen as a toy sport — live pinball, with real blood.
Later on, he nails fighting to the wall: A step to changing that would be a crackdown on fighting — something that other fast-moving contact sports like rugby, basketball and football long ago implemented. A clean bodycheck on open ice is like a good midfield hit in football: the violence is controlled, and there’s a balletic choreography to the collision. That’s not the case with the fighting, the slashing, hacking and holding that the NHL effectively condones through it’s mild punishments.
Personally, I could leave fighting in hockey (or have it removed — I understand the strategic aspects of it, but I feel the game can live without it, but I admit I enjoy watching Scott Parker ply his trade as much as I enjoy watching Bertuzzi, Naslund, Marleau, Forsberg and the other stars of the game) but the rest of the boys will be boys attitude leaves the NHL as a spectacle in search of respect; respect is withheld, because it’s unearned and not deserved.
And unfortunately, those who run hockey grew up in the boys will be boys, let ‘em play game, and they don’t see how much damage they’re causing the game with that attitude. Don Cherry is its most visible component, but it’s GMs like Bobby Clarke, who epitomized that attitude when he was a player, and other “traditional” power brokers in the game that are the real problem. Until they change their attitude and allow the game to clean itself up, these incidents will continue, and hockey will continue to live under the bemused eye of a media that only talks about it when something bad happens. And hockey will give those pundits continuing fodder, as players continue to get thugged into the hospital, until the NHL decides to get serious about stopping the violence before people get hurt, not complain after it happens.
Given we can’t even get the league to get serious about high sticks, I’m not holding my breath.
I’m merely hoping it won’t take someone dying on the ice to get the league to wake up and get serious. but given the current power structure and the attitudes they bring to the league, it’s probably more realistic to merely hope I’m not watching when it happens.
Don’t agree with me? Listen to. Do I need to introduce him? No, I guess not.
Or tell me why I’m wrong. but keep the elbows down in the corners, okay?