Turning My Coat For Don Cherry
By now, I'm sure you've all heard about Don Cherry's rant on Hockey Night in Canada on opening night. On his staple "Coach's Corner" segment between the first and second periods of the Leafs and Habs season opener, Cherry ripped into the apparent "turncoats" that have recently come out, in some form or another, against fighting in the league, not coincidentally following the deaths of three active players known more for their fisticuffs than their hockey skills.
Any death in our sport, whether it's suicidal, accidental, homicidal, plane related, or what have you, is tragic. These three players may have had their demons, and some might say that, if the cause of death was indeed suicide for even one of them, they took the easy way out, but that shouldn't tarnish their memory as part of the NHL family. No matter what you thought of Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard, or Wade Belak on the ice, they are already sorely missed in the community.
For many, their deaths have affected them to the point where they are now starting to come out against the way these players made their living -- fighting. I haven't conducted any studies, talked to any players, and as Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain would say, I don't have any facts to back this up, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the guy who making $500,000 a year (if he's lucky) and takes punches to the face for a living likely isn't as well off post-career as the likes of team owners Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
The people who are coming out against fighting aren't necessarily doing it to push their agendas. They're doing it because there's a clear problem with the fact that, for seemingly no reason, certain players jobs in the NHL depend on how well they can take a punch in absolutely meaningless situations, and because the players that do this face a higher risk of having a shitty life when they retire -- which usually happens at a much earlier age than their non-fighting counterparts anyway.
With the Shanhammer running wild on the NHL in recent weeks, the fighting discussion has taken a backseat to headshots -- accidental or not. But I have to say, in 2011, it's a little mind-boggling when you really think about it. Many teams have players who's sole purpose is to stage a fight with another player who's only purpose is also to fight. These interactions provide absolutely nothing of value to their teams, other than a rise out of the crowd which may or may not
But without offering any insight or argument as to why fighting needs to stay in the game, or how it positively affects the lives of any of these players, Cherry lambasted anyone and everyone who wants a better life for some of these guys. You can watch the video at the Puck Daddy link above, but here's a transcript of what he said:
"Is that ridiculous? I'll tell you one thing there. You people that are against fighting you should be ashamed of yourself. You took advantage of that to make your point on fighting. You should be ashamed of yourself for doing something like that.
I did a little research. Since 1999, there's been eight guys commit suicide and not one of them was a fighter. And when I played, I remember four guys commit the suicide. Not one of them was a fighter. But you jumped on this with both feet. You should've been ashamed of yourself.
But the ones that I am really disgusted with -- and I hate to say this when the kids are listening -- with Georges Laraque said about ... but the bunch of pukes that fought before: Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson. 'Oh, they reason that they're drinking drugs and alcoholic because they fight.' You turncoats. You hypocrites. It's one thing I'm not, it's a hypocrite.
You guys ... you were fighters and now you don't want guys that make the same living you did."
Nevermind his even more ridiculous rant on the Shanhammer's crackdown on dirty and unnecessary headshots, or the fact that he'd rather see a player carried off a stretcher than Jay Rosehill let up on a big hit.
With the Shanhammer running wild on the NHL in recent weeks, the fighting discussion has taken a backseat to these headshots. But in today's NHL, it's a little mind-boggling that we still have to tolerate pointless and staged fighting. Many teams have players who's sole purpose is to stage a fight with another player who's only purpose is also to fight. These interactions provide absolutely nothing of value to their teams, other than a rise out of the crowd which may or may not actually have an affect on the game on the ice, and a warm seat on the bench for the better part of 55 minutes off the clock.
The NHL "fighter" is already a dying breed, thanks to general managers and coaches who are finally realizing that they're completely unnecessary, and while it may lead to a few shattered dreams for players who otherwise wouldn't make the NHL, for many of them, it's likely a blessing in disguise. It obviously takes a little more than a few punches to the head to become an alcoholic or drug user, or even worse, kill yourself, but I'd venture a guess and say that it certainly doesn't help.
Don't believe me? Take it from a man who's been there himself and made a living out of busting heads (one that isn't Georges Laraque, anyway). Chris Nilan (who conveniently works for the newly rebranded TSN Radio 990) had the following to say via twitter -- again, thanks to Puck Daddy for the transcript:
"Let's get it straight right here and now. I never said that players who were fighters were prone to alcoholism and drug abuse. #misinformed. I guess those who can't play coach, or just had a show called coaches corner. Pretty sad he has to say that to get ratings. Guess he see's the writing on the wall with CBC losing market share to Bell and TSN."
The obvious argument here is that Cherry is indeed acting like a douche to get ratings for a dying, publically funded network. In the span of a year, TSN has not only taken market share from CBC, but also radio rights, TV rights, even experts and analysts. And I wouldn't be surprised to see them take the Saturday night rights away from them the next time their contract is up either. But regardless of what enables Nilan's anger, it's more than valid.
Cherry is short-sighted, out-of-date, and ignorant on this issue. It doesn't take a player or a coach to realize that this doesn't need to happen. We don't need to have this discussion. If you like seeing people beat the crap out of each other, there are plenty of other sports and venues to satisfy your blood lust. I don't watch hockey for the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em candidates or the fights, as fun as they can be on occasion, I watch for the finesse, speed, skill, and intensity of the need breed of player, and I'd imagine that anyone who isn't a senile septuagenarian who probably agree with me.
The headshots, the turn-bucklings, the fights... all of these needless actions in our sport has left me with a sour taste in my mouth. It's not about the "sissyfication" of hockey, or even taking out hits. It's about protecting players, and it's about an utter lack of respect that has plagued the sport and the players since the lockout, if not longer. Staged fights are an insult to those that go to NHL arenas every night, both to play hockey and to spectate. I don't want to see Shawn Thornton fight Eric Boulton or Jody Shelley for the umpteenth time, or George Parros raising fisticuffs with David Koci or Paul Bisonette five times a year. It doesn't add anything to my hockey-watching experience.
I used to tolerate fighting in the NHL. Even now, watching a good fight can be pretty satisfying, even if you're Brad Winchester. But after this summer, and after a lot of self-searching, it's pretty obvious to me that the sport would be better off if it did away with this senseless act of violence. Cut the 12th forward from every team. Throw out and automatically suspend any player who fights. Launch campaigns to discourage fighting at lower levels of hockey. It doesn't matter anymore. Whether anyone prior to this past summer's deaths in hockey were related to fighting or not, now they are. It may be a freak coincidence that we had three of them in such a short spans, but it happened, and it didn't need to. More importantly, it shouldn't have to happen again.
As far as Don Cherry and fighting are concerned. I'm turning my coat inside out. I'm rebelling, and I'm standing up against bullies like everyone's favorite fail of a coach and their campaign to continue allowing people hurt themselves in the context of a fight, for the warped enjoyment of the few. But hey, if Don Cherry, Mike Milbury, or anyone else who's impaired enough to defend this savage practice could get over their own senility for a minute and actually present a coherent and compelling argument in the favor of fighting, instead of flinging their feces at the people who don't agree with them, maybe we wouldn't have to be "turncoats".
Enough is enough. It's not even about dying players anymore, it's about what's good for the sport and common sense, something that Cherry painfully hasn't had for decades. It's time to have a serious discussion about fighting, and this barely coherent rant from one of the sport's dinosaur's is clear evidence of that.