Saturday, October 27, 2007

The NHL and destructive masculinities

A brief primer for the non-hockey fan: Back in the 2003-04 NHL season, Todd Bertuzzi sucker punched Steve Moore and pushed him to the ice, knocking him unconscious and breaking his back. People were outraged, but swore that it was an isolated incident - most players who are punched (which is nearly every hockey player) aren't rendered immediately unconscious, and most players who are driven from behind into the ice (again, probably most of them at some point in their careers) aren't paralyzed. Problematically, of course, the emphasis was placed on the severity and freakishness of the injury, rather than on the hypermasculine and uberaggressive game that encourages players to attack with intent to injure - so long as there's some small chance that he can defend himself.

In this NHL season, which is not even one month old, there have been three similarly vicious attacks - and all of them by players on the same team, (the Philadelphia Flyers) no less. The NHL has penalized the players severely - a 20 game suspension for the first and 25 games the second, (Bertuzzi also got 20) with nothing yet determined in the latest case - but it seems that no one is getting the point. Explains Philadelphia's general manager, Paul Holmgren, after the second suspension: "I do think it was an isolated incident."

The first problem, of course, is that Holmgren mistakenly used the singular form of incident - even when there were only two, it was incidents. The larger problem, though, is that these people continue to think that severe injuries in a game that permits shoulder checks to the head and punches to the face - provided that your opponent can see you coming, as if that should someone ensure your safety - could possibly be considered 'isolated incidents'. They may be uncommon, but it seems like they're a natural consequence of the sort of hockey game that NHLers are told to play. I don't know why none of the people who have a vested interest in seeing the players stay healthy and, y'know, play have so much trouble seeing that.

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