TORONTO - In the matter of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, the rush to judgment continues and the exploitation continues.
Weíre still being bombarded with the suggestion that there is a definitive link between what these young men did for a living and their premature deaths.
Nobody has proven that connection, yet the argument is constantly being advanced on the air and in print ó that there is a link, and therefore fighting in NHL hockey should be banned.
If youíre against fighting in NHL hockey, fine, only stop exploiting the deaths of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak to further that agenda.
NHL enforcers arenít an island unto themselves. Former Blue Jays pitcher Mike Flanagan committed suicide this summer and he wasnít an NHL enforcer. Nor were Erica Blasberg, Solen Coulot or Jeret Peterson, all professional athletes who committed suicide in recent months.
If thereís a hue and cry to be made, perhaps it should be for a study into depression and pro sport. Itís time to stop pretending that depression is somehow unique to NHL tough guys.
ďIt f---ing pisses me off that people take this opportunity to try to exploit a certain part of the game,Ē Boston Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton told reporters this week, when asked for his opinion on the topic. ďThose are very sad instances and I donít think exploiting a part of the game is the right way to go. I think we should remember the people as the men they were and not what they did for a living.Ē
Amen to that.
I think part of it is, people want easy answers, and itís easy to conclude that the deaths of the three deceased warriors were linked to the fact that they were NHL enforcers. But that doesnít make it right.
Itís your prerogative if you donít like fighting. But stop cramming down our throats the idea that most NHL fans donít want fighting, and most NHL players donít want fighting.
Listen to players
Time and again NHL players, even non-fighters, have resisted the idea of an all-out ban on fighting.
My colleague Steve Simmons suggested that NHL players should be polled, via a secret ballot, as to their thoughts on fighting. I think thatís a good idea. I also think the result would be the status quo, that they wouldnít want fighting eliminated from the game. And neither would most fans. The vast majority of fans at NHL games love it when thereís a fight. Their enthusiasm is real.
Many who want fighting eliminated from the game argue that their goal is to cut down on serious injuries. Thatís fine. But if thatís your priority, youíve got to get past fighting.
Youíve got to look at the size and speed of the players in relation to the size of the ice they play on.
Youíve got to look at the equipment, which is like medieval body armour.
And you have to look at hitting.
Belak claimed that he never suffered a concussion in a fight. But like most NHLers, he did suffer injuries as a result of hits. There are probably more NHL players who suffered career ending concussions as a result of open ice hits than because of fights.
The risks are there. The players understand the risks.
I will never buy into the argument that eliminating fighting from NHL hockey will make the game safer or better.
If players canít fight ó if the NHL somehow finds a way to stop players from dropping the gloves on the ice ó players will figure out other ways to enforce pay-back, and to protect their more skilled teammates.
When junior hockey mandated cages for all players, high sticking went through the roof. Is that what we want in the NHL?
Do we want kicking or kneeing, or stuff like that?
Fighting as been a part of NHL hockey as long as thereís been NHL hockey. And fans like it.