Does anyone really want violence taken out of hockey? Let me preface by saying that there is a big difference between hitting that is integral to the game of hockey, and hitting that is unnecessarily dangerous. A good clean hit to knock a player off the puck is part of the game. Running physical interference within the framework of the rules is a technical element of the game that makes it fascinating. Hits are going to happen, and at times, injuries are going to happen. Such is the nature of the sport. All of this belongs in hockey, but violence is a very different thing.
Before you can answer the question of whether you really want violence removed from hockey, you must think back on the incidents that have really irked you. I suggest that if you are angered more by the injury received by a player on a team you support, than by a player on a team you don’t support, you don’t really care to see violence taken out of the game. What you really care about is your team winning. Do you, in your heart of hearts, hope for your home player to receive a long suspension when he makes a dangerous play?
I have to confess that in my own interest in seeing justice done to violent players, my outrage is usually directed to players on other teams. Duncan Keith’s hit on Daniel Sedin was brutal, and I felt it right and proper that Keith received a suspension. Five games was not enough, but I digress. On the other hand, in last year’s playoff, when Aaron Rome lined up Johnny Horton and took him out of the playoffs, I, a Canuck fan, didn’t think he deserved the harsh treatment he got.
I’m sure that Canuck fans will argue about the details (Keith’s hit was at high speed with his elbow directed at Sedin’s face), but argument only supports my point; people argue in favour of the home team, which suggests that they are less concerned about violence than they are about its consequences to their team, or to their enjoyment of the game, or (in the case of owners) to their bottom line. This is the very reason why elite players don’t face the same sanction for violent actions that lower-skilled players do, and this is the reason violence continues.
If winning and losing, and money have any sway in our decision making about removing violence from hockey, decreasing violence will never happen. Until our reason becomes more philosophical, we’ll fail. If we really want to reduce the overall level of violence in hockey, we need to think about its effect on players – those players whose lives can be seriously and permanently affected by injuries. We also need to think about the problem of violence in society as a whole. We need to talk about sensationalism, and how we, as human beings, relate to violence. We need to reduce violence because it is essentially undesirable in a civilized world – not because it takes away the home team’s advantage.