Hockey hit an excuse to overreact
It kind of sneaked up on us. We should have seen it coming. Maybe you haven't thought much about it, but we're in the midst of a serious era of overreaction.
Janet Jackson flashes a body part across television screens during halftime of the Super Bowl and, in a chain reaction that almost seems beyond belief, some of the top radio personalities in the country are suddenly on the endangered species list.
Then a hockey player takes a dirty hit from behind, suffers a serious injury, and people all over North America are talking about taking all the fighting out of hockey. These are, in many cases, people who don't go to many hockey games in the first place. Presumably because of all the fighting.
Since the advent of television as the money machine that drives professional sports, hockey has been struggling to stay economically viable. The biggest problem with the sport isn't too much fighting, it's that the game simply doesn't play well on the tube. You can't tell the puck from a dust mite on your screen.
A labor war looms next season, and a lot of people on the inside believe we'll see a lockout that will force cancellation of at least part of the regular season. The NHL has a lot of problems.
But I don't think fighting is one of them.
Hockey at the big-league level is a violent game Ñ even without the occasional fisticuffs. The latest scandal, in fact, didn't have much to do with a one-on-one fight, but with a cheap-shot hit and one team's crusade to get revenge for it.
Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi's vengeful attack on Colorado's Steve Moore last week was over the edge, and Bertuzzi deserved a big fine and suspension. But that wasn't a fight, it was a mugging.
Weird thing, though, it wasn't as violent or potentially damaging as any number of blind-side hits you see during the average NFL game. You know the ones I'm talking about, where the linebacker or defensive end gets a free shot at a quarterback with his back turned. Or a mean free safety gets to fly into the back of a receiver whose attention is turned to the ball in flight.
In case you haven't noticed, some of the games we pay to watch people play are violent. We seem to like them that way. And when they play that way, sometimes people get hurt. In most instances of serious hockey injuries, sticks or checks against the boards have been the reason. In this case, it was a check and punch from behind.
Call me a barbarian, but I grew up watching hockey and have never found the fair fights anything but an entertaining sidelight Ñ sometimes even a main event Ñ to a game.
And even though it's not politically correct to admit it, many others share my opinion.
What I hate to see are knee-jerk, panic-based judgments that are born of overreaction. The hardest thing to find in today's hyperbole-filled world is some good old-fashioned perspective.