Thursday, March 15, 2007

Violent Civility

Ironically, in spite of often being known for it's outbursts of violence, as illustrated by the recent Chris Simon incident, Hockey and it's players in general, can legitimately be considered the most civil in all sport. Confused? I'll let John Rolfe writing for Sports Illustrated do the explaining.
"Sick of the misadventures of Pacman Jones and all the NFL- and NBA-dominated antisocial behavior going on across the land? Give peace a chance and check out a relative haven of sanity: the NHL." [...]

All in all, though, three decades of NHL misdeeds amount to what the NBA and NFL squeeze out in a good week. That's no small accomplishment for a sport that has been famously described as "a form of disorderly conduct in which the score is kept" and "figure skating in a war zone" -- one with a culture of violence that has been proudly embraced and ingrained for generations.

Consider some of the sport's most famous pronouncements:

"If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you won't beat 'em on the ice."
-- Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe

"'Take the shortest route to the puck-carrier and arrive in ill humor."
-- Flyers coach Fred Shero

"Half the game is mental; the other half is being mental."
-- Maple Leafs defenseman Jim McKenny
With such a license to ill, it's a wonder there isn't a bloodbath on and off the ice every 15 minutes. I suspect that the great equalizer is the relative lack of fame and money -- which tend to inspire ungrounded individuals to fire guns in nightclubs, shave their heads and drive with babies on the laps, and consort with chimps in personal backyard amusement parks. NHL players, many from fairly well-off (it is an expensive sport to play) or more sedate small town and rural backgrounds, tend to be more humble, polite, devoid of outrageous senses of entitlement, better behaved off the ice and, for the most part, on it (pay no heed to that donnybrook in the corner.) The league even has an award for gentlemanly play -- the Lady Byng Trophy -- and someone wins it each year.

Of course, no one actually pays to watch good citizenship, though it can't hurt, so to speak, to have it around. As much as we decry it, we humans really don't mind violence as long as it's administered fairly. If so, it's on with the ultimate fighting and the jolly he-got-jacked-up clips. It's stating the painfully obvious to say that a goodly number of fans enjoy the fighting in hockey -- just check out the sites that lovingly catalog and critique each and every bout -- and the NHL really dares not alienate them although it has tried to emphasize the actual game. But for all the brute force and ignorance on display each night, the NHL is hardly some tawdry basement cockfight. The skill and passion is hard to beat, in a manner of speaking, and the players tend not to approximate Terrell Owens in sheer obnoxiousness.

(my emphasis)
Imagine that. The NHL as poster child for relative sanity and good behavior in the insane world of modern American sports. Who'd a thunk it possible?

Well, those who know Hockey and it's players know. The rest of the sports world have been the clueless ones.

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