Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ken Holland's words: It has to start somewhere, it has to start some time

The lid was almost screwed on tightly on the fighting in hockey debate, but it might have been ripped off for at least a couple more news cycles.
"The biggest thing with our sport is you look at the other major sports — football, basketball, baseball — you're ejected from the game for fighting. They have a different culture ... We've had a different culture, history and tradition ... I think we should revisit it, because of what happened with that young player (Don Sanderson) in Ontario."
— Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, at
This might be sidetracked by people pointing out that's easy enough for Holland to say. The Red Wings have had the fewest fighting majors in the NHL by a factor of two. That is a bit of a logical fallacy, discrediting the person instead addressing her/his argument.

Holland's words are welcome to fans who are numbed to hearing this discussion invariably degenerate into an exchange of insults, "knuckle dragger" and "Neanderthal" on one end, "tree hugger" and "granola eater" on the other. Holland is also easier to side with than Pierre McGuire, who give him credit, is has stood his ground (although one of his corporate brethren calling it "intestinal fortitude" is a bit much; it's sports broadcasting).

It seems like 10 years ago, you would have never heard that from a NHL executive, so it represents progress. Holland wasn't calling for a ban, mind you. The premeditated fights, where two players line up for a faceoff and thrown down their gloves as soon as the puck is dropped could stand to go. Fights which are a honest outgrowth of emotion, spur of the moment, after a cheap shot on a teammate, is going to harder to outlaw.

At least Holland and McGuire, among others, are showing leadership, which might segue into a recent discussion over whether Don Cherry merits induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame. At first shrug, one might say, "Sure, why not?"

There's a reasonable case for Grapes. A counter-argument is that Hall of Fame is supposed to reflect greatness (stop laughing at the mere thought of this about an institution that has Harold Ballard in the builders' category). As Cox Bloc noted, Cherry does not rate induction in the HHOF since he has never used his pulpit for much other than the bullying variety. Putting him in confuses celebrity with greatness:
"At just about every turn, Don Cherry has been wrong about the direction of the game, preferring outdated shibboleths to innovation and progress. How can you honour a builder who would, given his choice not build the game but tear it down and return it to the Eddie Shore era? Cherry's done about as much to build good hockey as his buddy Mike Milbury did to build a dynasty on Long Island.

"Would baseball honour a commentator who was best known for opposing batting helmets, supporting beanballs and benchclearing brawls, and baiting Hispanic players at every opportunity?"
The point, sorry for repeating myself, is that attitudes change slowly and people need to have an open mind. The common refrain with violence in hockey is that we never learn in Canada. The New York Times sent a correspondent to Whitby, Ont., in the aftermath of Sanderson's death and found it's as if some fans, not all, haven't learned anything:
"... the crowd of a few hundred rippled with excitement. The audience seemed to have forgotten that the Dunlops lost a teammate to fighting only two weeks earlier. A fan of the Dundas Real McCoys leaned over to his friend. 'Did you see that right hook?' he said. 'Did you see him go down?' "
That kind of pleasure was never harmless to begin with, but at least that is hitting home. Again, busting on hockey is not going to change things, nor is grandstanding or taking a hard line. Small actions are needed. Stay in your seat when a fight starts at a junior or pro game. If you're watching at home, get up and leave the room. It can have a bigger impact than you might think, just like one GM saying maybe it's time to really get to the heart of the matter.

Red Wings' GM open to debate on fighting (Allan Maki,
Player’s Death Revives Debate on Fighting in Hockey (Katie Thomas, The New York Times)
Put Cherry in the Hall (From The Rink)

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