Fighting: Re-Scheduling the Evolution

Ross Brewitt

Today it’s time to take inventory, houseclean, tidy up, and re-shuffle the deck chairs.

Allow me to begin with a small reminder I wrote myself after another medical appointment which underlines the fact you’ve become a “regular” when even the X-ray techies know your first name.

Taking the usual instructions, “don’t move – buzzzzzz – breathe” she slam-bangs another cartridge into place, then “turn your toes toward the door, don’t move – buzzzzzz – breathe,” slam-bang, etc.  Next, without preamble, she comments “Saturday  my son was invited by his 15-year-old hockey playing buddy to come over and meet his agent. His agent for gawd’s sake. What the hell’s that all about? My kid wants to be a golfer, doesn’t even play hockey,” she said rolling her eyes.  

Being deeply involved in social science and good manners as I am, I replied that there are those who throw out their little local net to reel in the little local fish in the hope some little fish will hit the big time. As a result, having an “agent” is an item to flaunt, like an iPhone, or X-Box, or a Rob Ford T-shirt.

“It’s cool having an agent governing your every move,” I say, but without sincerity or conviction. She got it.

OK, that was belly-button lint, now we move to the more serious myth of fighting in hockey that’s been cluttering my desk and computer for many years.

If you listen to Some People you can be forgiven for believing fighting in the NHL is the only thread holding the game together. Geez, without fighting the NHL would cease to exist, lose its favourable standing among sports that condones punching as physiotherapy.

Apparently nothin’s better than having a high profile in the low-down situation, of being long-term harmful at someone else’s expense. Sort’a like the rationale used to justify smoking in the face of all medical science and data proving otherwise. Hence, the irrefutable, if flawed chain of logic. No fighting, no NHL.

They say the biggest fear an NHL coach can have is no-one on his bench willing to throw punches. No, the biggest fear any coach should have at any level of the game is one of his players suffering a career ending injury or worse, all from following the fighting “code.” Think Steve Moore’s shattered career. Because without getting into a sad list of names associated with the cause and after-effects, there’s a growing compilation of credible evidence to suggest a need for rethinking the fighting situation. 

However, NHL Commissioner Bettman in an interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, cited his reluctance to tamper with the fabric of the game (fighting) and allowing things to evolve, rather than applying stiffening remedial action. The problem with that answer is fighting in hockey has been “evolving” for over a century.

Yet fighting is such a draw, look how the fans enjoy it. Yeah, right. Fighting is always a hoot for those not in the fight, like Bettman and Fehr, or the fans. It’s also proves hockey’s image is that of fist-fighting up and down the spectrum. It’s also how Canadians are identified and portrayed in cartoons, photography, and the written word world-wide. But, according to Gary, everybody is out of step but us.

Interesting that in the hoopla leading up to golf’s President’s Cup, Canada’s Graham DeLaet took a few of his International teammates to a Pittsburgh Penguin game. One of the Swedish golf pros agreed to take up the offer claiming he wasn’t a hockey fan “but loved to see the fights.”

Then came the ludicrous scene last week in Vancouver, where a game began with a mob mentality punch-out.

It took me back a few years to when I wrote a column which pictured “a cagey lawyer, probably in the U.S. where lawsuits are a recreational sport,” sitting back gathering data, and smug quotes like Bettman’s. With much hard evidence, incident reports, and medical records, bolstered by concussion scans, and post-mortem brains donated by fighters, football players, and a growing list of hockey players, you’ll have a court worthy consensus. Fighting’s time on the sidelines is coming.

And it will be that pending lawsuit, entitled “Evolution, in a Hurry.”

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