The National Hockey League has allowed the ice to become a safe haven for major assault crimes which at some point will result in fatal injuries. These are not “rules violations”, they are crimes.
I used to enjoy watching hockey as a child, but as the NHL matured and I did too, I lost my interest in the sport. It happened one night when I was at Madison Square Garden and two players dropped their gloves and began sparring with their bare hands, first punching each other in the face, and then rolling to the ice. I watched in shock and dismay as this was allowed to play out for another 3 minutes with no one interceding. My young mind thought, “How could everyone just let this happen? Why isn’t someone stopping this”. Even worse, I heard many fans cheering on the fighters. Faces bloodied, they were each given 2 minutes in the penalty box, and 2 minutes later they were both back on the ice.
On April 19, 2012, Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres blatantly made a brutal illegal hit to the head on Chicago Blackhawks Marian Hossa. Hossa was carried off on a stretcher, belted in traction. Hossa is out for the remainder of the playoff series, and likely the season. You can see the hit, and the rules violation explanation, here: Torres hit.
As you listen to the explanation by the NHL’s Vice President of Player Safety, you are left to wonder: How does a player who has a FIFTH violation for illegal hits to the head receive only a 25 game suspension? If common law, not lenient NHL rules, were applied to this situation Torres would be serving 5-10 years in a Federal prison.
Is there something in our system of laws that says a field of sport creates a zone of immunity for athletes? Of course not. But for some reason a blind eye is turned to such assaults and relatively minor suspensions from play become the penalty. Potentially kill or cripple a fellow athlete during an intentional violation of the law, and be back on the ice in 25 games. This is shameful.
This post would not be complete without a comment on the situation with the “pay for injury” scandal with the New Orleans Saints. While these were potential crimes as well, and should be investigated, one must credit NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for the harsh penalties he has doled out thus far, including suspension of the Saints head coach for an entire season.
Sadly I’m not convinced the NHL wants to stop the illegal hits and fighting. I think they are willing to lose fans like me for all the other fans they get who actually like the hits, fighting, and penalties.
While not a proponent of government interfering with sports, it seems to me we need the justice system to intercede in hockey incidents such as this one. Blatant assaults on the ice are no different then blatant assaults in an alleyway. Until there is a crackdown from outside the league, crimes will be committed, penalty boxes will be filled, and relatively minor suspensions will continue. Perhaps until players are crippled or killed.