"Part of the Game"
Over the last 50 years, professional hockey has maintained a Jekyll and Hyde image. At its best, it has been the ultimate team game where players put team ahead of self. Team defense has won games and stars like Wayne Gretsky have showcased phenomenal individual skills. At its worst, it has been a violent battle of intimidation that appeals to an ugly side of human nature. Players use their sticks and fists to beat their opponents into submission and entertain their fans.
What many have called the greatest moment in hockey was captured by a Boston newspaper photographer in a photo more famous in my hometown than the one of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Bobby Orr flying through the air after scoring the winning goal for the Boston Bruins in overtime against the St. Louis Blues for the Stanley Cup title in 1970 represents hockey at its best. Orr scored after an end-to-end rush and a give-and-go pass to and from Derek Sanderson. It was a photo and a moment that perfectly fit the "Wide World of Sports" slogan, "the thrill of victory."
A photographer also caught another emotional moment for the Bruins that same season: Wayne Maki crushing the skull of Bruins' defenseman Teddy Green with a hockey stick. I still remember Orr's goal and I still remember the expression on Green's face. Green was not wearing a helmet. It may well be the ugliest moment in hockey. Green was lucky to survive, though he did not return to play that season.
Two years ago, the Bruins' Marty McSorley hit Vancouver's Donald Brashear across the head with his stick, knocking Brashear's helmet off before his head slammed against the ice. McSorley spent much of his career in Edmonton as "the Enforcer," protecting Wayne Gretsky from rough treatment from opposing players. In addition to protecting the stars on their teams, enforcers intimidate opposing players and are quick to drop the gloves to initiate a fist fight. Professional hockey and fighting are so intertwined that Rodney Dangerfield was fond of joking during his routines that he "went to a prize fight and a hockey game broke out." The fighting and rough play is considered part of the game. Play has to get to the level of the Maki or McSorley incidents for fans and the media to show outrage. Of course, it is the individual that is held responsible for their outrageous behavior while the collective of professional hockey disavows any culpability in these assaults with deadly weapons.
Unlike professional hockey, youth hockey has rules that prohibit checking at the younger ages. There is an absolute ban on fist fights. That ban is also observed at the high school and college levels. Still, some coaches and parents believe that anything short of a fist fight is part of the game. It has been reported that Michael Costin, a father from Lynnfield, Massachusetts, told the outraged father, Thomas Junta, that rough play during a pick-up hockey game between kids of different ages was, in effect, "part of the game." Junta's response was to let rage, not reason, dictate his response. "Part of the game" has now led to two loving fathers not going home to their children, one lost to eternity, the other to incarceration. Junta was convicted by a jury of involuntary manslaughter for a fatally beating Costin.
Along with the national media and Court TV, the local Boston media profited from the "Sideline Rage" story. Making money on such stories is also "part of the game." On the Saturday prior to the verdict being announced I watched the local CBS affiliate's sportscast, hoping to get another fix of the New England Patriots playoff story. The hockey highlights spent virtually the entire time feeding the filming and voiceover of a fist fight between the Bruins P. J. Stock and the Washington Capitals' Stephen Peat. I awoke to find the the Boston Globe dutifully delivered to my door. Along with my coffee, I was treated to a photo that took up one-quarter of the front-page of the Sports section, the "bareknucle bout" from the night before.
How do we as adults tell our kids it's only a game when we keep telling ourselves violence that could lead to death and incarceration anywhere else is "part of the game"?
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