Thursday, September 27, 2007

Double Standards - Violence in Hockey

If you know me, chances are you know I'm a very big hockey fan (this is always a fun realization for my non-Arab, non-Muslim friends who don't expect Muslim women of an Arab background to have any interest in such a "Non-Arab" sport, but the novelty always wears off when they've heard me chatter on about Habs prospects and playoff chances ad-nauseum).

If you've watched Hockey, you've probably realized it's a very physical sport. And I don't mind that. I don't mind checks and some jostling along the boards and full contact play, as long as it's clean. The problem, of course, is that "clean" is often defined by Hockey apologists as a very mechanical term, and seems to ignore the very essence of what that cleanliness is supposed to be aimed at doing - namely protecting the players on the ice from injury.

Why am I suddenly talking about dirty vs. clean hitting in hockey? Because of Steve Downie's hit on Dean McAmmond a few nights ago during an Ottawa-Philadephia exhibition game. Exhibition game. As in NO.POINTS.AT.STAKE. As in "even if you think violence has a place in hockey, why would you do something stupid and dangerous on a night when the stakes are low?"

But the stakes were high, for Steve Downie. Downie is a prospect trying to make the Flyers team, and he felt he needed to leave his mark. It's unfortunate that the way he chose to do that was with a dirty check that has left his opponent with a possibly career-ending (not to mention quality of life reducing) concussion.

And he's not sorry. When he was asked about the play afterwards, Downie responded that, "I was finishing my check. That's my game."

By that logic, it follows that it's okay to hurt others as long as that's your job. By that logic, hit men should not be punished for killing or injuring those they were hired to "take out".

Last year, after a vicious Chris Pronger hit on I-can't-remember-who at one point in the playoffs, I remember Pronger making a similar argument that it was a clean hit. This was clean defined in the mechanical terms, not based on the fact that the other player had ended up with an elbow in the head and a serious injury. And Pronger is one of the game's best defensemen, but still justifies this play.

The Globe and Mail's Stephen Brunt has a great article on this debate, and how we can't pretend to be disgusted by these dirty hits when they happen every few months, and yet encourage aggression and temper in between the incidents.

It makes no sense.

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