Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fighting the Fighting Issue

The Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, has spoken out against fighting in hockey, saying that it doesn't have a role in the game that he so loves as a Canadian. He underlines the skill aspect of the sport as being one of its virtues, along with speed and playmaking. While it's admirable that the Governor General takes an interest in the game as a sport and cultural mainstay, this oversimplification of the issues which are fighting and concussions does a great disservice to the world of professional sports.

The first thing to do is separate the issues of fighting and concussions. First, because concussions are too poorly understood in the field of medical science to be at the cause of all injuries being reported as concussions this season and secondly, because concussions are often not caused by fighting. The rash of concussions that the NHL has seen this season are largely the result of incidental contact within the neutral zone, often with another player looking the wrong way. It has happened more than once that a teammate on teammate accident in this zone is the cause of the concussion and not fisticuffs.

Furthermore, this type of incidental contact in the neutral zone is the result of the game getting faster. Speed may be what's killing the game today. When the NHL decided to make the game more exciting by decreasing the rink size and eliminating the red line, putting the trapezoid in to decrease the role of goaltenders and create more crease scrums, all of these decisions sped up the game. The very speed of the game, as well as the increase in the size of the players, coupled by the smaller ice surface, has caused more contact, wanted or not.

The most severe injuries usually are the result of this incidental contact because players are not prepared to receive the impact. A legal check into the boards, and yes, even a staged fight at centre ice, are all things a player can brace themselves for and this often prevents serious injury. It's the very unpredictable and unexpected nature of incidental contact which aggravates these injuries.

Take both of Sidney Crosby's cases: in case one, during the Winter Classic, he takes an unintentional elbow to the head while looking the other way from Dave Steckel. No dirty play there. In case two, he takes one in the numbers on the boards during a game, an offense which is a minor at best since the offending player did not leave his feet. In case three, he and another teammate get mixed up in the neutral zone. Not a single of these cases involve fighting, but they all involve concussions. This is another reason why the two issues should not be confused. Fighting can lead to concussions, but they are not the root cause of concussions and they don't even begin to explain the spate of injuries this season in the NHL.

Fighting is its own serious issue in the NHL and it's not to be taken lightly either. First off, you cannot make the argument that there is no role in the game for fighting. Ever since the game was first played, fighting has had its role. There are also different kinds of fights with different purposes. There's the stage fight, which is done on principle, usually by two heavyweights, which is just as much for entertainment as it is for showing off who's a tough guy on the team. There's the fight to defend another player who may be pushed around or wronged, sometimes while the ref is not looking. Then there are those frustration fights which occur because the game is going badly and sometimes it can be a momentum shift for the losing team- it is a statement fight more than anything else.

So whether or not you agree with it or like it, fighting does have a role in the game of hockey. The decision can be made to cut out this role and leave the policing of the game to the refs, but even that will not prevent a frustration scrum or just bad blood when emotions are running high. Hockey is a physical sport with passionate players; fighting, like violence in the real world, may just be a reality that people will have to deal with.

The so-called cultural war between fans who want a tough game of old style hockey and those who want to see a safer game is oversimplifying the issue. There are no easy answers, but there are decisions that can be made. The one thing that is certain is that all people who love the game want it to be safe for players, whether it be the NHL or their own boys and girls. The only way to make progress in this debate is for people to acknowledge the complexity of the issues and not take a black and white stance such as 'stop fighting'. This stance doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the issue and it doesn't offer a lot of solutions to the ever-increasing issue of player safety.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jealous Much?

North Americans are jealous people. You would think that they would be more self-satisfied and happy, what with their freedoms and their iphones and all that American dream crap, but they are jealous bitter people. Take the current EuroZone crisis. For years before this financial calamity occurred, North Americans have been taking pop shots at Europeans for their lazy, decadent lifestyles, their abundant vacations, wine-soaked lunches and annual beach getaways. Instead of using the example of Europe to demand more for themselves, North Americans in general have been content to insult them from their offices where many of them will eventually collapse either from mental inertia, cardiovascular issues from prepackaged crap or just old fashioned boredom.

There is a pervasive mentality of "everyone should have to suffer what I have to suffer", a sophisticated thought process dating back to the time when dogs snarled at each other anytime one of them had a bone. This is dangerous thinking as a society. To think that because you get 2 weeks off a year means that those guys across the pond don't deserve their 5-6 weeks is backwards. You should actually be thinking about what it would take for you to get 5-6 weeks and the plus benefits all around, rather than calling them lazy. This is the difference between creative thinking and old fashioned jealousy.

But North Americans remain obsessed with work, material wealth and convenience. And this mentality will not slow down anytime soon with the European crisis. It's a shame that we never learned how to better our society through Europe's example. It's a shame that pursuit of wealth is very likely to destroy those good lessons that Europe once had. Quality of life is no longer a philosophy about putting friends, family, good food and wine over work- it is an index factor used to calculate rate of pay with cost of living to see who's economically comfortable.

One only has to look at a series of comments on a news post to know that jealousy, coupled with its old friend bitterness, is in style. Anytime something goes wrong for someone, there's always a handful of people who will chip in with their go-to comment of 'stop whining you babies, everyone just wants a free ride, when I was young I had one pair of pants and a wooden spoon for my porridge, etc etc.' It used to be that the cantakerous old man routine was funny; now it's just getting old and nasty.

The world economy is not in a good place. People are not in a good place. It's normal that when things get lean and mean, people are going to start baring their teeth. But maybe it's time that we all took a good long hard look at ourselves and made the decision to stop resenting everyone for the things that they have that we don't. Especially since it seems that we're at risk of losing a lot of it.