The aftermath of Sunday’s Matt Cooke head-shot on Marc Savard has left Savard with an uncertain future and the NHL mired in controversy yet again. Coming just a day before a meeting of General Managers, the Cooke hit was one more point in an argument the players have made very convincingly all season long that the league must do something to stop this madness.
I don’t read a lot of hockey blogs, but I read Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy fairly regularly, and I’m a little disappointed in his approach to this. For one thing, he gets sidetracked, like a lot of die-hard hockey fans, by the fear that arguments like this one open the door for those who would, in Mike Milbury’s words, “pansify” the sport. That fear leads him to argue too hard against the pansifiers, and he ends up defending what he should be condemning.
Wysh, I understand your concern. We’re both hockey fans. We both love physical, hard, grinding hockey. We love that the playoffs are a battle of attrition where no player emerges unharmed. We love what it requires for a person to be a hockey player. Neither of us wants to see that change. But as hockey fans, we have to be firm here: targeting the head has never been acceptable in the history of the NHL, and it is not acceptable now.
We may speculate as to why headhunting has become more prevalent– personally I think it’s a combination of the instigator rule diminishing the consequences and better equipment making hits to the body just play hurt less — but regardless of reason, this has become a plague on the NHL, and it’s up to the league to do something about it.
There are two points Wysh makes with which I take issue. The first is that there is a big difference between the Cooke hit on Savard and the hit early in the season by Mike Richards on David Booth. Wysh’s point is that the Cooke hit is just a plain old dirty play, while the Richards hit is a valid hockey play, an attempt to separate Booth from the puck. I agree with this, and the distinction is important – but less important, to me, than what the two plays have in common. In both cases, one player caught another player in a vulnerable position, and rather than applying a devastating body check, they chose to target the head, and only the head.
Still recovering from my septoplasty surgery, so I’ve spent most of this beautiful Philadelphia Sunday sitting inside watching NHL Center Ice. I’ve just watched Marc Savard of the Bruins carried off the ice of Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena on a stretcher, after left wing Matt Cooke tried to disconnect his head from his body.
Edit: new video below. This one’s less dramatic and shows more context.
As is far too common these days, Cooke saw that Savard was vulnerable, came in from his blind spot, and hit Savard in such a way as to maximize impact to the head – and, as is almost as common, there was no penalty on the ice. I expect Cooke will be suspended once the league reviews the hit, but in the meantime, the Bruins lose one of their most important offensive players, and the Penguins get to keep their two points. Cooke will lose a few games worth of pay, but he will ensure job stability in the salary-cap era by being a guy who will “deliver a big hit.”
It seems rare these days to get through a single NHL game without one of these hits, and I have to say that it’s become disgusting. I am a die-hard NHL fan, a defender of the hockey fight and the big hit, but I cannot stomach the way these players target each others’ heads, especially with the research that has recently been emerging about the long-term consequences of sports concussions. While league officials and GMs debate the merits of penalizing this kind of play, athletes are seeing their lives shortened and worsened by plays that should never be allowed in any reputable league.
Meanwhile, international hockey leagues carefully protect the heads of their players. As we recently saw in the Olympics, IIHF rules forbid players from playing without a helmet, and hand out swift justice for hits to the head. I do feel that the IIHF goes too far (if a player wants to continue playing without his helmet, for instance, I don’t see why that should be penalized) but I do think the NHL needs to take action – definitive, clear action – to stop the headhunting that pollutes this league.
My proposed solution for the NHL is as follows:
(1) Any hit that either (a) contacts only the head or (b) contacts the head before any other part of the body, whether intentional or unintentional on the part of the player initiating the hit, should be a minor penalty.
(2) Any hit where, in the referee’s determination, the player initiating the hit deliberately (a) targetted only the head or (b) targetted the head before any other part of the body should be a match penalty.
At this point, I believe it is safe to say that these sorts of hits will result in injury. Therefore, any player who intentionally hits in this fashion intends to injure the other player, which justifies a match penalty.
The main objection most people have to this argument is against the “unintentional” hits to the head. My response is that the NHL already awards a two-minute power play when a player (a) breaks the stick of an opponent, even unintentionally, or (b) clears the puck out of play, even unintentionally. I find it pretty hard to accept that a broken stick or puck out of play are less tolerable than a player’s health and career being risked with a hit to the head.
I have no wish to see hitting reduced in the NHL, but I do want to see these blind-side head-only or head-first hits stopped. I am tired of the argument that any hit where a guy keeps his skates on the ice and his elbows down is a “clean hit.” They are only “clean” because the rulebook says otherwise, which is a major oversight. Hockey players know how devastating those types of hits are, or they wouldn’t throw them so often. I do believe that a guy has to keep his head up, and I like to see the big hit against the player who watches his pass or skates with his head down across the blue-line – but I want that hit to be delivered to his body, or his hips, or his chest. I don’t want to see another player victimize him by clipping him across the head.
Until the NHL does something drastic about this kind of play, nothing is going to change, and the game will continue to suffer for it.
On January 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit heard arguments in Miller, et al. v. Skumanick, a child pornography case that, oddly, involves no child pornography. The case goes back to 2006, when two girls aged 12 were photographed by another friend on her digital camera. The two girls were depicted from the waist up, wearing bras. In a separate situation, our third client was photographed as she emerged from the shower, with a towel wrapped around her waist and the upper body exposed. Neither of the photos depicted genitalia or any sexual activity or context. In 2008 the girls’ school district learned that these and other photos were circulating, confiscated several students’ cell phones, and turned the photos in question over to the Wyoming County district attorney, George Skumanick, Jr.
Skumanick sent a letter to the girls and their parents, offering an ultimatum. They could attend a five-week re-education program of his own design, which included topics like “what it means to be a girl in today’s society” and “non-traditional societal and job roles.” They would also be placed on probation, subjected to random drug testing, and required to write essays explaining how their actions were wrong. If the girls refused the program, the letter explained, the girls would be charged with felony child pornography, a charge that carries a possible 10-year prison sentence.
This past Thursday and Friday, armed riot police invaded the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus. Ostensibly defending the visiting G-20 delegates meeting several miles away, these police in no way confined themselves to breaking up disruptions or protests. They attacked and arrested students who were making casual use of campus facilities including the student union and the residence halls. They trapped students between locked doors and police barricades and gassed or attacked them when they “refused to disperse.” They arrested student journalists and legal observers. They even invaded student housing, going to far as to arrest students for “refusal to disperse” within their own dorm rooms.
How has the University responded? With outrage at the treatment of students making typical use of University and public property? With warnings about overreaching police power and questions about closing an entire city to its residents because of a handful of visiting foreign nationals? Not exactly.
I’ve followed Brat Boy School, the home page of model/blogger/underwear spokesman Ethan Reynolds for quite some time. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “fan” of Ethan’s, but he was pretty and I checked in fairly often to read posts about his love life, skin care regimen, workouts, recipes, and political views. Ethan was a pretty high-profile figure in the online gay community. I say was, because Brat Boy School crashed dramatically this week with a revelation: Ethan’s not real.
Well, to be fair, the person who goes by the name Ethan Reynolds is real, in the sense that he is the male model who appeared in photographs on the site. However, he did not write the blog; Rick Altman, his manager, wrote all of the entries. From what I can gather, “Ethan” (whose real name is apparently JR) really was boyfriend to porn-star-turned-underwear-spokesman Benjamin Bradley. They really were (are?) under contract with Ginch Gonch to be the “Ginch Gonch Boys.”
But beyond those facts, any details that appeared on the Brat Boy School blog were fictional.
Brad posted yesterday about the significance of August 6: the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, Jamaican independence, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Bush ignoring warnings that might have prevented the 9/11 tragedy, and this:
“In 1945 the United States, in the biggest act of terrorist violence in history, became the first nation to drop a nuclear weapon on, you know, people when they destroyed Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands and probably over 100,000 people. Go USA!“
I just wanted to expound on that a bit more, because I don’t think most Americans really appreciate the deep meaning behind the Hiroshima bomb and the mark it left on the US legacy, nor do they know some of the most important facts.