Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fighting has no place in hockey


David Johnston

"Hockey I think is a wonderful ... tribute to Canada. It's a game that's vigorous, it is our outdoors, we take advantage of winter.

"I call it the beautiful game because it is the fastest game in the world."

"The intricacy of the play ... combines both a virtuosity of individual efforts but always as part of a team."

David Johnston
Governor General of Canada
CBC interview with Evan Solomon

Three cheers for David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada.  He isn't afraid to challenge the good old boys and their precious "code."  Although he didn't  mention any names, Johnston publicly disagreed with the neanderthal views of Don Cherry, Brian Burke, Mike Milbury and their ilk.  He dared to say that fighting, like headshots, shouldn't be part of the game.  What a breath of fresh air!  

The Governor General can not be accused of a lack of hockey knowledge and experience.  Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Johnston was an accomplished player during his youth.  As a teenager, he played on a 17-and-under team in Sault Ste. Marie with future NHL stars, Phil and Tony Esposito.  After suffering three concussions by the age of 16, he was persuaded to wear a helmet by his doctor.  Wearing a helmet was not a popular choice in those days.  It took courage and Johnston must have endured a great deal of criticism for it.  He was probably called a lot of derogatory names and his masculinity must have been severely questioned.

In the mid-1960s, David Johnston attended Harvard University and was an outstanding player for the Harvard team.  In fact, he was elected twice to the all-American Hockey Team and is a member of Harvard's Atheletic Hall of Fame.  During his university days, Johnston became a friend and jogging partner of  future best-selling novelist, Erich Segal.  When Segal wrote Love Story, he based a minor character named "Davey Johnson," a player on the Harvard hockey team, after his colleague.

I am pleased that our Governor General spoke his mind.  It's about time someone challenged Donald S. Cherry and the other good old boys.  It's about time someone refuted their oft-cited argument that fighting is part of the game.  Even The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, towed the "good old boy" party line when asked about fighting in hockey.  David Johnston refused to do so.  In his interview with the CBC's Evan Solomon, Johnson made the following statement.

What other sports say (fighting) is a part of the game?  Least of all in this game, because the essence of this game is the speed and the skill and the playmaking.

Yes indeed!  What other professional team sport tolerates fighting?  The NBA certainly doesn't.  Major League Baseball doesn't.  The NFL doesn't.  As for football (soccer), forget it !  Any of that nonsense and you get a red card.  That means you're out of the game and your team is one player short for the remainder of the match.

Why should the NHL accept fighting when the other sports don't?  I don't believe it should, but whenever I express my opinion on hockey violence, some males roll their eyes in a patronizing fashion as if to say, "What does a girl know about it?"  Then they invariably ask me whether I stand up with great excitement and interest when there is a fight.  They hope that I will admit that I do, but the  truth is that I never stand up and cheer a hockey fight.  I sit down because hockey fights are boring and a waste of time and energy.

Let's make one thing clear.  I am not advocating non-contact hockey.  I'm just saying there is no room for fights, headshots and high sticks.  Does the NHL need to risk losing any more skilled players such as Sidney Crosby?  Make no mistake, Sid the Kid's future in hockey is in terrible jeopardy.  There's a strong chance that his career may be over at the age of 24.  If he plays again, it is doubtful that he can ever play as effectively with the possibility of another concussion hanging over his head.

As for the so-called enforcers, they should be come as extinct as the dinosaurs.  "Enforcer" is just a euphemism for goon.  The hockey world has seen ample proof that being a goon causes scrambled brains and premature death.  Perhaps some misguided men are willing to sacrifice their health and welfare for large sums of money, but that does not mean we should allow them to do it?  Being a goon is a dishonourable and shameful way to earn a living.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to make any progress in reforming the game when one is up against the mindset of people such as Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke.  Burke recently whined and lamented having to send goon Colton Orr down to minors in order to maintain a more skilled lineup.  The way Burke carried on, you'd have thought he had lost his most productive scorer for the season.  You'd have thought he had made the most painful decision of his life.

I much prefer the mindset of Governor General David Johnston who commented that a number of things can be done to minimize the risk of concussions to star players like Sidney Crosby.  Let me end with Johnston's statement about the steps that need to be taken.

Those steps include redesigning hard-plastic equipment so it is less dangerous, eliminating head shots and high-sticking and fourthly, I think fighting is just . . . it should not be part of the game.

Amen to that and thank you, Your Excellency.

- Joanne

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