Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Bertuzzi Disgraces Our Game

One of the many reasons why I like hockey is for its intensity and emotion. But when that emotion turns into a lack of respect for others, people are injured. Hockey is unique for the fact that, while referees call penalties and mediate the game, the players take it upon themselves to put their opponents in their place through fights. In any other professional sport I can think of, a fight would be reason for automatic ejection from the game and possible suspension. But hockey has the unique situation of having a penalty designated for fighting. That's because fighting is generally understood as a part of our game. Although some sicko Canucks fans may still be satisfied with the revenge exacted by Todd Bertuzzi, the majority of fans are nauseated watching the replay. That has no place in the game, and anyone who thinks that it's part of the game needs to grow out of the battle mentality and realize hockey is a game and should be enjoyed. Do you people enjoy seeing people beaten to a bloody pulp? If so, the solution for that is counseling, not demanding that out of hockey and justifying it as intrinsic to our game. Such rhetoric causes the mainstream media, outside the cult-nature of the NHL hockey following, to generalize the actions of Todd Bertuzzi and conclude that hockey is violent in all respects, including its fighting, checking, and stickwork. That play would not have been "part of the game" in the Howe era (50's , 60's mostly) either, because those players largely understood the meaning of respect. Physical play was competitive, not violent and premeditated. A Howe Era player would've had the respect to face Moore like a man, face to face, and drop the gloves mutually. I have a feeling some fans think of the Howe Era as an anything-goes battle, and use that to justify the actions we see today. I'm not arguing that these types of hits are widespread beyond control today, but I am worried when fellow hockey fans take them as a necessary evil. Retribution should be in mutual fights, not upping the anty on what you are taking revenge for. If McCarty had done an act equal to Bertuzzi's to Claude Lemieux in the fire of the Wings-Avs rivalry, I still would have the same feelings, and trust that other Wings fans would also. McCarty exacted revenge the right way, and Lemieux decided to become "the Turtle" rather than fighting back. In part, the fans and mainstream media are to blame for what happened with Bertuzzi. Vancouver media outlets played up the situation and fans carried a lynch-mob attitude and called for Moore's head. Canuck players rose to the challenge given by their following, and guaranteed revenge. Bertuzzi felt like he had to follow through and provide the fans with what he thought they wanted, and crushed Moore with the score 8-2 Avs in the third. Another important thing is that, no matter how fans are reacting, the NHL must also consider the player's position. Do they really want Bertuzzi on the ice with them again? Does Chelios really want to go back into what we have always thought was a competitive rivalry between the two, and find Bertuzzi behind him, potentially stalking him? The answer is clearly no, and, if Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell have any guts, Bertuzzi will not take another NHL shift for a long, long time. And it's not about Moore's injuries necessarily, because, whether Moore was hurt or not, Bertuzzi grossly breached the respect of him and every single NHL player. He also blackened the eye of the NHL, which was already recovering from the Marty McSorley stick incident and struggling to answer to whether there will be a 2004-2005 season with the CBA expiring in the summer. The negatives of what he has done and what he could do outweigh any reason for him to return soon, which I honestly cannot see right now. I'm all for giving people a second chance, but Bertuzzi needs to prove to the NHL that he is mature enough to respect his fellow player and not let his emotions drive him into cheap shots. The NHL announces the verdict on Bertuzzi's "sentence" Thursday morning at 9 am. I hope for a suspension of at least the remainder of this season, including the playoffs. But if the NHL follows its precedents of heavily punishing enforcers and slapping the wrist of All Stars, Bertuzzi will get off lightly.


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