Bertuzzi Incident in NHL's Fault, not Bertuzzi's

I have little interest in hockey. In fact, it is exactly for reasons of the "McSorley/Bertuzzi incident" variety along with the fact that the money has ruined the game, that my interest in pro hockey evaporated long ago. Ever since I went to Clarkson University in the early nineties and experienced competitive division I college hockey, I began asking myself why fighting in the NHL is considered to be a draw by true sports fans, or why it at least is perceived to be by the NHL.

I consider college hockey to be so incredibly superior to the NHL that they are not even comparable in my mind. Why? Because they play hockey and do not waste their time with other tangential and totally unrelated-to-hockey on-ice pursuits. Novel, eh. It is a still a team game in its purest form much like many of the other minor league sports which combined with collegiate sports have replaced all of my pro sports interests except that of pro football. Alas, in the D.C. area, college hockey, particularly that of my graduate alma mater, Clarkson University, is simply not aired with anything but rare frequency.

When I was in my teens I suppose I enjoyed a good fight on the ice as much as anyone. Back then in Buffalo, when hockey games got boring, Rob Ray would hit the ice and the crowd would instantly become energized because they knew what was coming and in spades. Usually it was a sign that the Sabres were up or down by an insurmountable amount and the fans had grown restless. But did and does this type of behavior really add to the overall appeal of hockey or detract from it? I can only speak for some close friends and myself but this is a part of the reason why I no longer even check the standings in pro hockey. Or pro basketball, or pro baseball for that matter.

Sure, fights often occur in close games. Many happen in retaliatory fashion such as the most recent "Bertuzzi incident" did, retaliation for actions taken weeks prior. Can you say "premeditated." However, after viewing the supposed "infracting" original check, and not being completely aware of all the current rules of pro hockey, there appears to be little similarity between the two. On the one hand, Moore was "guilty" of a check that appeared to be hard, but legal insofar as I know the rules. Perhaps it was illegal, but it was clearly not as blatant and a cold-cock from behind and a subsequent face first throw to the ice, which is as hard as concrete.

Is Bertuzzi responsible? Of course he is. However, this incident likely would never have happened in the NHL, via the officials that they supposedly have to "control" games, had they actually been "controlling" the "game" with rules enforceable to aid in that. At present those rules simply do not exist, ergo, it matters not what the officials do. A simple five or ten minute penalty, to anyone who has played competitive sports, is nothing in exchange for an opportunity for one to "get back" at another player that "offended" you, especially in the heat of the moment such an action is legally allowed, within the aforementioned ‘penalties' to take an inordinate response.

Subsequent fines, even fines in the thousands, are antiquated and laughable to players making millions upon millions playing the sport, or should be. To put it in contrast, a player making $5M per season, a modest salary these days in hockey, basketball, or baseball, paying a $25,000 fine is the percentage equivalent of a person earning $50,000/yr. being made to pay a fine of just over $250. If that were the penalty in society for "exacting retribution" on one's neighbors, then "neighborhoods" would be far more violent making the proverbial "Hatfields vs. McCoy's" scenario a common urban/suburban reality. Consider as well that players earning in the millions are essentially infinitely past contributing to their discretionary income level as well where as most of what the 50K earner earns goes towards survival and essential family welfare while perhaps struggling to do even that.

McSorley, a former player very familiar with this incident was recently quoted as saying that Bertuzzi did not mean to fracture Moore's neck or knock him unconscious. Bertuzzi has even admitted as much. But in what was the societal equivalent of mugging and assault and battery at minimum, Bertuzzi cold-cocked Moore from behind and then intentionally took him to the ice face first. Did he think that Moore had eyes in the back of his head? How about arms that functioned towards the back of his body? Clearly Bertuzzi knew the physical limitations that his own body possesses as well. Did he think the ice was soft in the spot where Moore's face hit it? There is no defense for Bertuzzi. If he did not "mean it", then he should not have done it!

Bertuzzi apparently only wanted to square off with Moore, so he says. So why then didn't he simply spin Moore around and then take whatever actions he was going to take? Bertuzzi did this and Bertuzzi should pay an appropriate societal penalty, not merely a hockey "punishment." If it was my wisdom and common sense that were requested to suggest the legal actions on this I would recommend turning this over to a civilian court and processed just as if the incident had taken place outside the arena on the streets by two every day non-athletes. If Moore can no longer play, in the unwise event that that Bertuzzi is able to play henceforth, as a reminder of his actions a certain high percentage of his hockey salary should go to Moore and his family. This incident is what it is and not what it is not. Physical injuries such as this cannot be simply explained away by "I didn't mean it" statements. The reaction should be "then why did you do it?"

However, the reason that this happened has nothing to do with Bertuzzi and everything to do with what is permissible in the NHL. If anything, I would expect the hockey players to be up in arms about this entire incident. Yet, after having heard from some of the Washington Capitals here in the local media in the D.C. area, the opposite seems to be true. One would think that the players as a collective would be appalled that "one of their own" has been injured at the hands of another "one of their own" who is now in a serious predicament as a result. For this could have happened to any player prone to on-ice retaliatory action and if the players think otherwise, then they are being naïve. Yet, based upon statements made, the players appear to be supportive of Bertuzzi's actions although not the outcome. Well, you cannot have one without risking the other. Apparently those holding this position are not particularly equipped with oodles of wisdom.

It is only a matter of time and statistics that individual actions such as Bertuzzi's turn into a more serious incident and therefore "Bertuzzi" could have been just as likely any other player who takes similar actions in the league to have it end up as it did. It just happened to be Bertuzzi this time. In fact, I will be so bold as to say that if Moore's neck is not fractured, then this is a footnote in the annuls of pro hockey in the NHL. As well, given the frequency of similar incidents, yet without the dire results, occurring in the NHL, I am quite surprised that such neck or other serious injuries do not occur with a much greater frequency.

The way to put a stop to it is to stop all of the actions causing those injuries, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with sports itself or with hockey in particular. Heck, since the players seem to feel this strong primal urge for vengeance, why not just have a "fourth period" where players finish the game, then come back out for their vindictive actions. Perhaps they could even shower up and eat something in the meantime so that they would be fresh to be at their best. If the players are correct, then there's no sense in not being allowed to do optimal damage.

It would give the "bread and circus" mob what they want I suppose, while allowing those who are disinterested to leave the arena without interfering with the game. And then forget hockey pads. Take them all off, put on some boxing gloves and shorts and have them go at it with each other. Heck, screw the gloves too. Let's just turn this into an all out "extreme fighting" scenario which is outlawed in this country. Heck, arm them with brass knuckles too! Or hockey sticks! Or a hockey stick for one and a skate with a metal blade for the other! Let's turn this into a real show, a gladiatorial event if you will! Afterall, if the on ice stuff is justifiable, apart from the rare instances where serious injuries occur such as this most recent incident, then surely it should be justifiable following the game as well. There is absolutely no argument that is not purely hypocritical to counter that logic. Yet, it is ridiculous in a civil society.

The NHL has the ability easily to correct all of this in a matter of a single offseason. Yet they will not. Instead, something similar occurs every X-number-of-years and after a brief sting of political hockey, it goes away and all goes on as it has. This incident is merely a symptom of a greater problem however. Sports in this country have gone to an extreme in many cases. Instead of a brotherhood of sorts that player unions are supposed to foster and one which should exist today particularly in leagues where players change teams the way the rest of us change socks, players on different teams have over time become "enemies" of sorts almost comparable to true mortal enemies giving them license to "go beyond the sport" to exact retribution with a vengeance. They seek to intentionally injure their fellow players via one means or another.

Athletes at all levels should be able to play their game, laugh and play heartily and extremely competitively, and be able to emerge from every game, won or lost, with a good feeling about having played. If they did not play their best, then they can feel free to be critical of themselves. If they are bested by a superior team, then so be it. There can only be one #1 in any given season. That fact does not relegate all the athletes not on that particular team to a status of human irrelevancy. But most importantly, athletes should be able to meet following a game and perhaps exchange apologies and high fives on a game well played while restoring all dignity and self respect amongst each other.

True sportsmanship is a dying institution. It is not dead yet and most certainly not beyond being revived. But as it now stands, winning is more important than the integrity of the individual athletes and the integrity of pro sports in general or even the integrity of a society in general. Sadly, the more this happens in pro sports, the more it permeates to minor league sports and to sports in general which is the trend that we are seeing across America. It also transcends down to the fan level, which is also becoming more prevalent as well. Childrens' parents now attack each other often at "kiddy level" sporting events designed to be fun, often with catastrophic consequences. The children are the big losers there.

Moreover, the more that athletes perceive themselves as "military combatants" or the like, ala Kellen Winslow Jr., then the greater this problem in sports becomes. They are athletes in a game that should be for fun, not survival or even self-respect or integrity at the deepest levels. The fact that they get paid as much as they do to play professionally should have them down on their knees, not crying that getting paid $30 million over four years is some sort of outrage. Many cry while making far more even, far more. If they had been told at the age of 12 that they would be getting paid $5 million for playing their favorite game as an adult, there is no question that they would have been content at such a notion. The greater a problem it is for them, the greater likelihood that they will seek performance enhancing advantages as well, whether legal or illegal, and the more this ideology will also permeate into the lower ranks of sports and into fan bases which it already has.

The reason that all this is occurring in pro sports is because the individual players have become bigger than the teams that they are supposed to represent. There are numerous examples. All one has to do is to look at the attitudes of pro football players Randy Moss, Keyshawn Johnson, Terrell Owens, now Ty Law with his whining about his contract when he, among many others, are making more money in a single season than just about all fans will make in an entire lifetime by a long shot, amongst a slew of others in sports already gone way past anything sensible in the arena of money and contracts. It must be awfully tough to go through life with a paltry 20 or 30 million dollars that Law considers to be a "slap in the face." What a hardship! At some point players begin to alienate many fans. Baseball, basketball, and hockey have already gotten to that level and their appeal reflects that.

Prices for many sporting events have risen to an extent that fans find themselves asking why am I paying 60, 70, or 80 bucks a ticket to line the pockets of a multimillionaire earning tens of millions who is ungrateful following every season because an owner or another player is earning more. The NFL is now flirting with it very, very closely. The big difference between the NFL and the other pro leagues, is that for one's ticket price, a full day of activity can be had for relatively inexpensive due to tailgating parties. Done properly, a pro football game provides 12 hours of fun and activity including the game. Tailgating is not occurrent for baseball, basketball, or hockey. Fans at those events pay the ticket price, go in, pay outrageous prices for refreshments and concessions, and then leave.

Notwithstanding, it is all about those individual athletes first. "Gimme the Damn Ball!" Yup, that about sums it up. Give him the damn ball! And "if I am not getting the damn ball then something's wrong" I suppose. Or I guess "you" just aren't going to give your all until "you" get your way, that's it, right? "I can make waves. Just look at all the fans in the stadium/arena wearing MY jersey! This "team" is nothing without ME!"

Teams do not have a vendetta. Only individuals do. With properly instituted and properly enforced rules, problems in pro sports of the magnitude now being discussed diminish to a level of being an exception, not a rule, and one that is dealt with harshly, not via some inconsequential fine or probation. I will gladly pay a $25,000 fine and go on probation if someone pays me millions upon millions of dollars to do the thing that I enjoy doing best as well. Making players bigger than the teams that they play for and fringing on making the players bigger than the game itself as is now currently the case in pro hockey, major league baseball, and in the NBA, detracts from the team element of sports. It puts more onus on individuals to "prove their mettle" personally in non-sporting ways and in fact fringes on them being bigger than the game itself, whatever game that happens to be.

How many times have we heard the cliche "there's no ‘I' in ‘T-E-A-M'." Yet, the reality of the situation is that in fact the "I" is beginning to outweigh all four letters as well as the word "team" collectively and then some. It is carrying some sports, …AHEM…, …baseball. If not for the Yankees and their menagerie of talent in their showcase window, it should be pretty clear to anyone that baseball as the American tradition that it was throughout the 20th century would have collapsed years ago all other things being equal. It ails as it presently is regardless.

Further enhancing the notion that sports in large part are growing away from the "team" aspects and more to the individual superstar player aspects along with the fact that it is less about the purest of competition, is the fact that in the NBA and NHL teams do not even have to be good to make their playoffs. In both leagues 16 teams make the playoffs without regard to anything additional. Of the 29 teams in the NBA 16 will be in the playoffs every season. That means 16 teams making the playoffs and 13 not making them. Of 30 NHL teams, 16 will make it, 14 not.

Wow. Gosh, you must surely have to be good to be in the NBA playoffs. NOT! In fact, of the 29 teams as I write this, only 14 have winning records and it would not be unusual for below .500 teams to make the playoffs in the NBA. It is pretty obvious that several teams will make the NBA playoffs this season that will end up being well below .500. Why? Do they deserve it? Me thinks not!

It is all about money driven by individual player appeal that is why. My wisdom tells me that if teams cannot attain at least .500, or some other preset win percentage standard, that some teams ought to have a "bye-round" instead of playing some team that has not earned a shot at a championship. The NHL is only marginally better. Baseball is better in the playoff aspect but is the worst offender in making individual athletes bigger than the game itself. The best players in baseball get contracts in the neighborhood of a quarter of a billion dollars! That's billion with a "B." How players can argue over money at that point is well beyond my capability of reason and my own personal self-respect, dignity, and conscience. If I got paid even a single one-time payment of a million dollars to do what I do best, I would be on my knees thanking God for allowing even that. A million dollars is chicken feed for some of these athletes.

Fighting adds nothing to the sport element of hockey. In fact, it slows down play, wastes time with penalties, and extends games that have already been decided in the 2nd period even longer. It adds nothing to the game itself and only provides a sideshow type of entertainment to a game that is already won or lost. It does have a certain mob-mentality type of appeal, but the breadth of that appeal is questionable as well.

Intentional violence in sports in general needs to start being much more closely monitored and controlled. In baseball, I am still waiting for a batter to take the bat to the mound instead of dropping it prior to "charging the mound" to take on a pitcher that just "threw at him" intentionally. After all, if in a parking lot or some other public venue someone hurls an object capable of killing someone under the right circumstances at a person or his family at a deadly speed intentionally, one would assume that the person on the defense would be apt to be over there in a NY second with a crowbar or other implement ensuring that it does not happen twice. I, as sure as the Pope is Catholic, would not run over empty handed given options.

If it is part of the game to throw a baseball at a batter at nearly 100 mph, perhaps exactly that or greater, then surely it is fair game for the batter then to attempt to chase down the pitcher using the "sporting good" that he uses as well. Why should the pitcher be at an advantage in such a situation? A beanball to the head could potentially kill. So what's the big deal with a batter taking out a pitcher's knee with a bat as a vendetta?

But why stop there! Suppose the batter is hit by a beanball? Why is that runner then, following his HBP advancement to first base then disqualified from running up on the pitcher from the backside to cold-cock the pitcher? Surely that is what the NHL is allowing! Or the first basemen standing on first to try to tag the runner? Why shouldn't the runner try to cold cock the first basemen who looked on with satisfaction while the beanball was thrown?

But again, why stop there! How about in football? Why cannot a lineman who was illegally chop-blocked on plays prior come around from behind and grab the infracting players face mask and then yank it around backwards 180 degrees in an attempt to get the man to ante-up one-on-one in a brawl! A broken neck would likely only be the result every so often, not the rule. Obviously those examples are ridiculous, although who knows how far from becoming a reality. Frankly, I cannot imagine why no batter has done just that, taken the bat to the mound. Perhaps it's been done and I simply missed it. Just as well if so. But the point is simple and that is that violence, premeditated violence such as beanballs and "payback" type of violence, needs to be controlled. At present it is not.

No one desires to break another fellow athlete's neck, but that is what happens randomly when this type of sports violence is left unchecked. As an analogy, suppose a person is angry at his neighbor for one reason or another and decides to set his garage on fire. Yet, after burning the garage, the entire house burns down. Is it not common sense that if the garage burns then there is a chance that the house is likely to burn right along with it? Would that person then be cut slack because he "did not mean to burn down the entire house", but only the garage housing the riding mower that his neighbor would not lend him? Would it have been OK if the fire department had gotten their in time to prevent the rest of the house burning down and thereby serious injury to family members leaving only the garage destroyed? Would society "look the other way" if that was done and the house did not burn down? Of course that is silly, but I ask why is the same scenario in the NHL and other sports not just as silly!

The NHL needs to turn the NHL back towards pure hockey as do other sports, primarily pro sports. They seem to be able to perfectly follow the rules in collegiate hockey almost flawlessly just in case the highly paid suits at the NHL do not have the common sense that God gave a walnut in order to figure it all out. "Why is that", they might find themselves asking! With all the interest in pro sports, the ramifications of not so doing in all sports permeate the entirety of society in very negative ways. It is very simple. Very simple! Really!

E-mail: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

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