The closest thing to Pacman the NHL has had may have been notorious enforcer Bob Probert, whose litany of arrests included a 1994 incident in which he crashed his motorcycle into a car while riding with a robustly elevated blood alcohol level and supposedly told Chicago police, "Just charge me with the usual."
Yes, the league has had its share of vicious hits and notorious brutes (Todd Bertuzzi, Marty McSorley, Spraque Cleghorn, even the great Gordie Howe and Rocket Richard were not for the faint of heart), rogues and substance abusers (Probert, Theo Fleury), scandals (Alan Eagleson, John Spano, Rick Tocchet) and even a murder case (Mike Danton). There have been drinking-and-driving tragedies (Pelle Lindbergh), not to mention a guy (Dino Ciccarelli) running around without his pants on a la Detroit Lions assistant coach Joe Cullen. Baseball may be the current and traditional home office for cheats, but the NHL has them, too (McSorley's stick, Garth Snow's slyly oversized goalie pads, and let's see what the unfolding steroids/HGH investigations yield).
All in all, though, three decades of NHL misdeeds amount to what the NBA and NFL squeeze out in a good week. That's no small accomplishment for a sport that has been famously described as "a form of disorderly conduct in which the score is kept" and "figure skating in a war zone" -- one with a culture of violence that has been proudly embraced and ingrained for generations.
Of course, no one actually pays to watch good citizenship, though it can't hurt, so to speak, to have it around. As much as we decry it, we humans really don't mind violence as long as it's administered fairly.
There will always be those who tut-tut-tut and hold the NHL up as the black-eyed, toothless poster child for mindless, grinning violence, but I agree with what SI's Michael Farber wrote: the league polices itself reasonably well, but all the butt-numbing suspensions in Christendom won't prevent the next incoming Sher-wood swung in the heat of the moment. Yet, if you can heartily embrace the NFL's brand of colorful, controlled violence, the NHL game is certainly worth your time and attention, and if you long for a league with a fair degree of likeable citizens, you can do a whole lot worse elsewhere.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
NHL Violence Doesn't Compare to NBA and NFL Violence
With the recent outcry from Yuppie Hockey League fans over the three hits that have actually put hockey in the sports spotlight, it’s not difficult to lose sight of what makes hockey a great sport filled with great athletes. It’s also pretty easy to lend too much time to incidents that are actually quite rare and forget about the incidents that do not occur. Both define a sport and its athletes. And when you take both into consideration, hockey, despite all of its thug and goon-like characterizations, is one of the cleanest team sports in North America. John Rolfe, from Sports Illustrated, takes a closer look. Quotable: