In 2018, nearly all of professional sports is dealing with a crisis. The NFL has a domestic violence culture that continues to persist, a general ambivalence to head trauma and then there’s the whole restricting the players’ rights thing (see anthem protests circa 2017). FIFA has been drowning in corruption for years and only now appears to be gasping for air. Major League Baseball has got past the steroid era but now is dealing with fans not being present in the stands and commissioner Rob Manfred is desperate to speed up the game. The NBA has done a great job marketing itself and has no PR problems of note. Bravo, NBA.
The NHL’s problem has been an ongoing one. They, too, have a concerning lack of interest regarding head trauma, but there’s might be even more lethal than the NFL’s.
The year is now 2018. None can say they don’t know the full implications of repeated head trauma. The safety of the athletes is far more important than it once was. The game is quicker. The audience has become more attuned to the sport. They know good hockey when they see it and they know garbage hockey when they see it as well (looking at you, Buffalo and Edmonton).
As the audience has grown in intellect and stature, the league has sought to meet the demands of its audience, installing 3-on-3 overtime to make for a more exciting spectacle.
Audiences have agreed the days of thug hockey are over. The days when people saw value in a dude elbowing another dude in the chops is over. It’s not safe. It’s dangerous.
The league, like every other organization run by rich white men, has dragged their feet on changing. They would just prefer the world continue as it were and the steady stream of green continue its way into their vaults. That’s not how life works. It evolves and that evolution is one of the most sacred things about life. You can adapt with it or be left behind.
The enforcers, those once idolized brawlers, have slowly been pushed out of the sport but some linger.
Tom Wilson, likely the dirtiest player in professional hockey, is a prime example. His penchant for headshots is well-known. Yet, Mr. Wilson remains.
In Game 2 of the Pens-Capitals playoff series, Wilson delivered one of those trademarks to the skull of Brian Dumoulin, who crumbled to the ice. Wilson was not penalized and did not even receive a phone call from the NHL’s department of player safety.
Despite his history, the NHL decided to let Wilson go on bail. Wilson was eager to repay them.
In Game 3, Wilson left his feet and drove his shoulder into the face of Penguins’ forward Zach Ashton-Reese, who suffered a broken jaw and a concussion. The referees got together and decided it was a clean check. Wilson returned to the bench with a smile.
In what world is that type of result legal? Why, the NHL, of course.
The NHL has a problem, a large problem, if its umpires and executives in Toronto watch a guy get decapitated on national television and don’t think it should be penalized. There is a grave danger in allowing that type of behavior to persist and the result of letting that behavior live was on full display Tuesday night. Blood was on the ice and Ashton-Reese had a caved-in skull.
The NHL’s current disciplinary rule dictates that the league cannot take a player’s history into effect when viewing whether or not a hit was illegal or not. In the case of Tom Wilson, he simply has a history of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, that place specifically being with a part of his body driven into another man’s brain center. To not take his past into account would be like giving a chronic abuser bail after allegedly committing another act of domestic assault. It is your job to decide, not if he’s guilty, but to decide if the public is at risk if you let him leave your supervision. The NHL decided Tom Wilson, a man with his own film roll of headshots, wasn’t a danger to society. We all got to see the result of their mistake.
In addition to making a common sense change to the way they view disciplinary action, it might be a good idea if the department of player safety wasn’t run by someone who didn’t give a fluff about player safety during his career. Making George Parros the head of the department of player safety is like making a renowned Soviet spy the head of the FBI. It is exactly that type of person that you don’t want in that room.
Lastly, might want to look at how four referees on the ice witness a hit like that and think that’s a legal play.
At the same time, I don’t know if I can fully blame the refs. They don’t know what mask the NHL is wearing anymore.