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Hockey, the Poor Man's Boxing

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 23, 2000.

Two dramatic examples of hypocrisy in action have leveled two people in their respective endeavors. George Bush, after fanning the flames of religious and racial intolerance in the South Carolina, famous for treason and loonies, paid for it when John McCain caused him to be called an anti-Catholic bigot in Michigan. Bush is shocked that such tactics can be used, but he has only his own family heritage of Willy Horton and Lee Atwater to blame, all of which was much worse. Bush has much gall to pretend that he is either offended or shocked.

In another league, a Boston Bruin - Martin McSorley - gave a vicious smack to the head of an opposing player named David Breashears with only three seconds to go in the game. It knocked the man out, but aside from a concussion, he is amazingly okay. Everybody has expressed shock and wide uniformity of opinion was achieved when they say it was "the worst thing they ever saw in the sport." For the first time in pro Hockey, the police are involved and may press charges.

The claim is that this was not violence within the accepted template of the activity. One man came up behind the other and swung his stick hard against an exposed part of the other's head, who went down twitching and slack. Of possible interest: the victim was one of the few blacks in the sport, and the other was white from a city with many fans from the area called Southy, famous for school bussing intolerance. Nobody has chatted about that, oddly.

That has to be a lie. I cannot recall exact events, but what I saw, while absolutely awful, didn't seem much different than other sleazy hits through the years in a game altogether too sleazy compared to its affected image. What was shocking about it was that it was done for no reason in front of God, camera, and several officials, with no available cover story. No stick handle quickly thrust into a throat, but a claymore slap across the head. Both people involved in this altercation were the hit men for their respective teams and had fought earlier. Now they have to feign shock at their actions, and ask forgiveness. All hockey is concerned about is that it was so blatant and gives the NHL an image problem.

Hockey players for many years made the most excessive displays for virility run amuck within pro sports. They didn't wear helmets, and so to a man they had no teeth beyond the odd bicuspid whacked into the nether regions of the brain when they were twelve. This was okay when they were mostly French Canadians, because Americans couldn't understand them anyway, but when more Anglo Saxons joined up, it was thought to be beneficial to interview them, and hockey entered its first Era of weirdness, when sportscasters dreaded talking to men who made punch drunk boxers sound like Henry Higgens at his most erudite.

Eventually, hockey became more popular and stars emerged and opposing teams discovered that they could gain an advantage by crippling the other's luminaries, and they would hire questionable but vicious players to do just that, leaving a bunch of thuggish enforcers roaming the ice, taking offense at any wayward glance and beating on each other. The game itself is impossible to follow on television, but a fight is both understandable and good TV, so Hockey became slightly more popular and as a television show was indeed built around the requisite fight. They pretended otherwise. The floodgates of sanity were opened when an effeminate goalie started wearing a mask so that he could, eventually, recognize, see, and greet his children, wives, and re-constructive surgeons, and players all started wearing semi-helmets, and this allowed people to smack each other a lot more without doing much damage. Most of the supposed fights in hockey are pretty lame, as they are in all professional sports including boxing, which is what happens when violence is programmed and expected. For the last two decades on the ice, a vague sort of equilibrium between assassination and sport has existed at the pro level, with violence going up to keep television ratings from plummeting too much. Until, we are told, until the other night.

And now Hockey has a big problem. The National Hockey League, because the game is too fast and small to be followed on television from whence comes all real money, has encouraged and smiled upon fights for decades, because it is the only entirely understandable process on the screen. For only the third time in official memory, police will pursue the issue of hockey violence. This is the only actual case where television can definitely be shown to have increased violence for profit. Whatever line existed was crossed the other night, and now a financially struggling League might find that its players are subject to law like you and I, and this will make for bad television when the action is stopped and the Zambian is used for a paddy wagon by local police. Sorry, but this is nurtured hypocrisy come home to roost, for league and fans, and for one player that will pay overmuch for the sins of others as well as himself. Just so, it came home to Dubai Bush, playing in another league with Whitman that pretends it doesn't and lies about it.

The compassionate conservative who panders to racists and religious thugs of means, succumbed to similar tactics in Michigan. In the end, all to the good. This is DC. If I don't see you again, hang in there.