Media Must Lead The Way To Change The NHL


I have thought long and hard about this. I am sure there are those out there who will say I am nuts, but that’s okay, I have big shoulders. After reading the phenomenally depressing story in the New York Times on Derek Boogard and re-reading some of the other stories on him and others before him, I arrived at the conclusion that the only way things will change is if the hockey media demands it.

Fans, people in general are sheep. I recently read a story of a famous actor landing in Toronto’s pearson airport and when getting off the plane, made a wrong turn on the long walk to customs, and ended up in the wrong part of the airport. Not a big deal, it happens. Problem is the 25 people that followed him. We, in general need to be lead.

The Canadian media and those who cover sports and hockey more specifically in the USA need to carry the torch on this fighting, hits to the head stuff in hockey. The only way change will come will be as a direct result of a constant drum-beating by the best and loudest in the business. It’s really that simple.

For every fan out there who recognizes that this is a major problem there are 20 who cheer at the first sign of a staged fight at a hockey game. This is a legitimate problem and one that will not be resolved without a concerted effort on the part of the media to keep at it until change comes.

Damien Cox has a great story in the Toronto Star on the topic:

“So if Bettman is arguing that more data is needed — 1,000 dead NHL players? — he can stretch this argument out for years. Decades.

Until then he can play word games like he did on Tuesday at the conclusion of the NHL board of governors meetings when asked if fighting in hockey was “dangerous.”

“Maybe it is, maybe it’s not,” he said.

But isn’t there always head trauma involved in hockey fights?

“Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not,” he said.

The suggestion from Boogaard’s father in a New York Times article that the “Boogeyman” was tipped off to drug tests four days in advance?

“I doubt it,” said Bettman.”

That my friends should not be acceptable. Fans shouldn’t accept that, and neither should the players.

Joe O’Connor takes another angle but hits the nail right on the head as well:

“Every player on every bench on every NHL team deserves to play. Not an equal amount. Team sports don’t work that way. But an amount indicative of a player that has some measure of skill, however modest, and can shoot and score and skate and actually belongs in the NHL.

Derek Boogaard could fight. It is all he could do, and that’s the problem, not with fighting per se, but with a league where, somehow, at some hard- to-pinpoint moment in the past, the hockey goon was born. The solution is obvious: banish the goon.”

Three writers in the Globe took on the story:

“When rough-hewn forward Derek Dorsett of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who has more fights (eight) than points (seven) this year, was asked if there is such as a thing as too high a price to pay for the NHL dream, he didn’t hesitate.

“No,” the 24-year-old native of Kindersley, Sask., said flatly. “There’s a lot worse things I could be doing. There’s risks in every job, my brother works in an oil field with heavy machinery, there’s risks doing that. … I love what I do, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Which is really the nub of the issue: Those who typically face the greatest perils are more than happy to accept basically any risk to make the big-time.

As rambunctious New Jersey Devils forward David Clarkson, who leads his team in penalty minutes, said: “I wouldn’t be in the league if I didn’t play that type of style.”

What are the current players going to say? With all due respect to them, if they weren’t paid goons in the NHL what would they be doing? How much would they be making? Dorsett, by the way makes apparently over $500k this year. No knock on the guy, but really, what would he be making if he wasn’t fighting in the NHL? He ranks 318th in the league in points. He is 3rd in penalty minutes. Again, I am not picking on the guy at all. He may be the nicest guy in the world. I also don’t blame him. I don’t blame any of these guys, I blame the system.

I am not in writing this blaming the media either. They know as we do what sells. Highlights and game photos for most of my life have always included fights and or fighting, I get it. I know these aren’t great analogies, but movies and TV shows used to show people smoking all the time. I hated flying with my mother because she made us sit in the smoking section of an airplane (like it made any difference which section we sat in). The real pressure on drinking and driving didn’t come in until MADD came along. I’ll say it again, I know these are two completely different things than fighting in hockey and concussions etc. My point is just because things were once acceptable doesn’t mean they always have to be, especially when science suggests otherwise.

As Joe O’Connor says, it’s not the fight that occurs as a spur of the moment, aggression relieving action that’s the problem. The thing that saddened me most about the Sportsnet story on Boogard was how he couldn’t sleep for days in anticipation of a fight in an upcoming game. How sad and pathetic.

It’s not in any way the media’s job to fix this. I am just saying they are the only ones with the power and ability to effectuate change. We always say that change won’t come until someone dies. It’s almost to the point where it doesn’t really matter anymore. I mean if two guys dropped the gloves in yet another prearranged, staged fight and one guy literally killed the other with his fists, would that finally do it?

In my mind it’s going to take relentless focus and attention on the part of the media to keep after the league to fix this. That’s the only way it will ever change. Despite what I write about some, or many, there are good people in the media. Some have played, some have just simply been around a long time. For every Cherry, there’s 5 guys who really care. My hope is that they realize they power and influence they have and continue to bang the drums.

So Bob Elliott has made it to the Bsaseball Hall of Fame. We, the baseball fan base in Toronto should really tip our hat to the guy, that’s a special accomplishment. There are numerous articles singing Bob’s praise in the Toronto Sun. The one you should read comes from the other paper, the Toronto Star by Richard Griffin. I think that it’s great in this age of kill the competition Griffin did the right thing and wrote what had to be written.

“In the room wanting to be present for the announcement at the BBWAA’s annual winter meetings session on Tuesday morning was Hall-of-Fame executive Pat Gillick who sparred with Elliott over insider info, reliable club sources and broken news as the Jays’ GM for 10 mutually respectful years, including two World Series. They have remained good friends.

To me, that is always the key to Elliott’s success through the years as the top authority on all things Canadian in the game of baseball. He does his job, reports what he knows then afterwards, when the gloves are off, personally cares about the people that he works with, whichever side of the equation they are on. It’s a rare attribute and Hall-of-Fame worthy if not in Cooperstown, if not in the Canadian Hall at St. Marys, then in life. Bob has all three.”

Well said Richard.

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