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Friends, Romans, Countrymen...

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles CEO, The Sports Network

Canuck's fan
A Vancouver Canuck's fan holds up a sign in support of suspended Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi on March 13. Bertuzzi was suspended for at least the remainder of the 2003-04 season after severely injuring Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche in a recent game.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -- The operative word here is "Romans." How else do you explain the atmosphere and attitude that has pervaded the NHL for as long as any of us have been watching it? Isn't there substantial credibility to the phrase, "I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out." The mentality that supports the sport as it is currently conducted belongs in the coliseum of ancient Rome. All that is lacking is a glance to the owner's or press box for an indication of whether there should be a thumbs up or down when the inevitable punching contest takes place.

Listening to the inane beings that phone into today's sports talk shows, hosted, for the most part, by less than knowledgeable purveyors of information whose power levels have reached their zenith by the ability to simply terminate callers at the flick of a switch or a nod to their worshipful producers sends one searching for music or news instantly. These fans of hockey want the fights. Unbelievable. That is why, so they claim, they go to the games. They equate that to NASCAR fans (so they claim) that do not really want to see how much talent there is at driving a vehicle between 180-200 miles per hour in the midst of 30 or more people doing the same thing and avoiding one crash after another. Are those Marlboro and Budweiser/Miller enthusiasts really sitting there waiting to see someone hit the wall in a mess of tangled steel and fire?

Is that all NHL fans are waiting for, the gloves to drop? What sort of mind-set is that?

Hockey has allowed, encouraged and condoned, fighting during the course of a game by explaining it as part of the action. How insane is that? But, it fits and suits the twisted intellect and rationale of those in the stands.

Think about what hockey players are doing out there, the talents displayed while moving at breakneck speed on ice within a confined area. Darting and dashing between everyone else on the ice, trying to move a puck the size of your fist from one end to the other, between all that activity and into a net guarded by a compatriot of theirs, an opposing team member whose helmet/faceguard belongs in a Chainsaw Massacre offering. And you are concerned with keeping your footing on the ice at Rockefeller Center during the winter months?

Do you really appreciate what these athletes are accomplishing? And, despite it all, you and the NHL want them, the players, to beat each other to a pulp to break the perceived monotony of the game itself?

Marc Moro and Rob Ray
Defenseman Marc Moro (l) of the Nashville Predators throws a punch at right wing Rob Ray of the Buffalo Sabres during an on-ice fight in a 2001 NHL game.
Sixty percent of pitches allegedly thrown at batters just got away from the person on the mound but that leads to an intentional 90 mph missive headed in the direction of a batter when the other team come to bat. It is a "get even, I hit you last" state of mind that has no place in sports.

The NHL has admitted "enforcers" with less talent than the rest of their teammates and only one function in mind - go beat someone up. Can you imagine if the NFL had this, or the NBA, where people are regularly pummeled at the line of scrimmage, heading downfield for a pass, cutting into the lane for a layup or going up for a rebound?

Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi took a cheap shot, a get-even hit of sorts, on Colorado's Steven Moore and the latter was rushed to the hospital with what might have been a career-ending injury. It was a gloved punch from behind to the side of Moore's head, rendering him unconscious. NHL players are a physical lot and the game itself is inundated with more pushing and shoving than the NFL, solid hits up and down the ice and into the boards. All these years they required - yes, required and courted it as part of the game - fighting, blood-letting and injury-laden activities to placate the Romans in the stands.

Todd Bertuzzi
Todd Bertuzzi shows remorse during a media gathering on March 10.
The Canucks were fined $250,000 Bertuzzi suspended indefinitely. Gary Bettman, Commissioner of the NHL, has to step up and either show his mettle, convert the sport to what it was intended to be or hire a tandem of Bob Arum and Don King to start booking fights in the midst of each period. How does any sports fan, particularly some of the mental midgets that call talk shows from coast to coast and are courted, incited, by the hosts, determine that fighting is part and parcel of hockey?

Moore had a broken neck, concussion and deep cuts on his face. Welcome to the world of the NHL. And, no, it is wrong to say that comes with the sport. Bertuzzi was retaliating for a hit Moore delivered to Canucks' captain and Bertuzzi's buddy, Markus Naslund. It was an open ice hit and Naslund was out for three games. It's get-even time in the NHL, the ice version of the Mafia. I'm surprised that Tony Soprano wasn't asked to suit up.

Are prosecutors and Vancouver police looking into this? Be serious. Gary Bettman and his owners are the ones that have to look in their respective mirrors. Back in February of 2000, when former Boston Bruin Marty McSorley was charged for hitting then-Vancouver Canuck Donald Brashear with his stick, McSorley was convicted of assault with a weapon and received a 19-month conditional discharge. No prison sentence and no criminal record after probation. He was suspended for a year and retired soon thereafter, but he was planning to do so anyway after 17 years of pushing, shoving, punching, being hit, scoring, assisting and, yes, occasionally skating.

Marty McSorley
Back in February of 2000, former Boston Bruin Marty McSorley was charged for hitting then-Vancouver Canuck Donald Brashear with his stick. McSorley was convicted of assault with a weapon and received a 19-month conditional discharge.
People are paid to hit each other in the NFL, and bodily contact in the NBA has been overlooked ever since the Boston Celtics' Wayne Embry began using Wilt Chamberlain's back for a desk upon which to rest. The Stilt changed the game in more ways than one - from widening the lane to allowing more hands on action than is evident at the Chicken Ranch in Nevada. Baseball's own idiocy, and brand of retribution, is limited to pitching exchanges that are, for the most part, unwarranted together with an allowance for sliding into a second base that now has an area from the batter's box to the center core of the outfield. But, despite the imbecilic outpourings of hockey fans - admittedly, not all - this event, the Bertuzzi hit, was pre-determined. It was just a matter of when and where.

Bring the circus to a sport and it deteriorates, sooner or later. With boxing and Don King it was sooner. The sport is a skeleton of what it was and is one step removed from wrestling. Hockey has a core base, fans that love it, season ticket holders from New York to Vancouver, that crave the action and talents displayed on the ice. Allowable, and rule book, hits and confrontations are sufficient. Sticks used as lethal weapons, cheap shots that detract from the allowable ones and glove-dropping fights have no place in the sport and never have. Participants have to be thrown out of the game(s) and, where necessary, out of the sport.

Will the NHL actually wake up and change, do the right thing? Or, will they let it pass and just return to what they believe to be normality in the sport? You gotta be kidding!