The hockey apologist will give you some combination of the following arguments for why this is okay:
- Hockey has always been that way.
- There is a degree of violence in all sports.
- Hockey does a better job of policing itself than other sports.
- Barry Bonds, Michael Vick, Latrell Sprewell and their ilk generally don't have a representative in the NHL.
- The players know what they're getting into when they step on the ice.
This is all bullshit.
Not that it's not true, because most of those cases are legit.
But the biggest reason why this is okay in hockey is: it sells.
Anyone who's ever been to a hockey game - really at any level - where a fight, big hit, even pushing and shoving after a play has happened knows that the fans become more engaged and vociferous at that point than any other point in the game, other than a goal for the home team.
The casual fan may not know why you cheer when your team clears it all the way down on a penalty kill, but they cheer their faces off when two (or more) guys are toe-to-toe.
Hockey, and the NHL, may not like it, but it can not live without the violence in the sport.
The problem, therefore, is that the non-hockey-enjoying public's perception of hockey is that there is no other reason to watch hockey other than for the violence. What other explanation can there be for the refusal of ESPN, major networks and cable news channels to show anything hockey related other than the ugliest moments that transpire? We are subjected to every home run, interception, slam dunk, birdie putt and NASCAR wreck, but we only see Todd Bertuzzi, Chris Simon and, now, Steve Downie on ESPN, CNN or Good Morning America representing the "good old hockey game". Interestingly enough, or frustratingly enough, we also witness the dissection of the minutae of the lives of our heros from the NFL, NBA, MLB and NASCAR on those same networks, while hockey players are, by in large, spared the scrutiny.
But is this the media's fault? No. They know what their viewers are - and are not - interested in watching.
Is this even a "fault" issue? In other words, does hockey celebrate its obscurity and self-marginalization in order to maintain the status quo? Maybe. It would be a lot easier to say it does if all the owners in the NHL were in the black. But the bottom line is that if the NHL wanted to do something about this kind of play, it would. Since it hasn't....
Speaking of owners in the black, "Dollar" Bill Wirtz passed away last night. The tight-fisted owner of the Chicago Blackhawks was apparently a philanthrope, but was just a horrendous owner of a professional sports franchise. His refusal to pay for talent or televise home games in the local market unless it was a sellout for x-many years now was an absolute joke. I know he's in the Hall of Fame, but Blackhawks fans have been getting a raw deal for a long enough time that this should be a happy day for them.