Violence will stay as long as it sells
"(Convicted dog-killer) Michael Vick won the Ed Block Courage Award"
The National Hockey League has been taking a lot of heat in the media recently for its reluctance to eliminate head shots and fighting from the game.
But there might be a method to what seems like madness. Maybe commissioner Gary Bettman believes that violence sells in today's society ... and he might just be right.
Don Cherry took the NHL to task last Saturday night on Coach's Corner after Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke was not suspended for his cheap shot to the head of Boston's Marc Savard, knocking him out with a serious concussion. But Cherry is the same man who has produced 21 Rock'em Sock'em hockey videos since 1989 - featuring big hits and fights - selling more than 2 million copies and fattening the wallet in his colourful suits.
EA Sports, the maker of popular video games, also knows violence sells. After its NHL 2009 game won 12 sports Game of the Year Awards, EA Sports's slogan for this year's 2010 version was "Prove you're tough enough."
When The Hockey News reviewed the 2010 game, it was described as "highly amusing" and "addictive."
"Fans of the popular video game know that during stoppages in play, it's always fun to lay the lumber on your opponent in a penalty-free environment," The Hockey News wrote in its review. "In NHL '10, the scrums between whistles are taken to the next level with face washes, body contact and good ol' hacking and slashing."
The top-selling video game in the United States last month - by number of copies sold, according to NPD Group - was BioShock 2, a first-person shooter game in which the player takes on the role of Subject Delta. At No. 2 on the video-game list was the New Super Mario Bros., followed by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. No need to explain what the latter is all about.
The most popular pro sports league in North America is the violent National Football League, with its long list of players who have been arrested over the years for violent crimes, earning it the tag National Felon League.
Quarterback Michael Vick served 18 months in a U.S. federal prison after torturing and killing animals while running a dog-fighting ring before returning to the NFL last year with the Philadelphia Eagles. After the season, Vick won the Ed Block Courage Award in a unanimous vote by his teammates. The award is presented to a player who exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.
Can you believe that?
It's also true that the fastest-growing sport in North America is the super-violent Ultimate Fighting Championship. While the "sport" is banned in some provinces and states, it sells out wherever it is allowed, including the Bell Centre, which will be the site of UFC 113 on May 8, with a top ticket price of $600.
In Boston last Thursday, a crowd of 17,565 was looking for blood when the Penguins were in town to face the Bruins for the first time since Cooke's hit on Savard.
The front page of the Boston Herald tabloid that day featured a Wild West-style wanted poster with a photo of Cooke and the headline: "WANTED ... at least one Bruin willing to teach this bum a lesson."
The Herald also had an online poll asking readers: "How do you think the Bruins should handle the Matt Cooke situation tonight?"
The four options were:
1. Knock him out of the game with an equally dirty hit
2. Drop the gloves and fight him
3. Go after Sidney Crosby instead
4. Turn the other cheek; a win is more important
By early afternoon, 41 per cent of the 2,700-plus responses called for fighting Cooke, 25 per cent said go after Crosby, 16 per cent called for a dirty hit and 18 per cent suggested turning the other cheek.
The fans got their wish only 1:58 into the game when Shawn Thornton dropped the gloves and put a beating on Cooke. The Bruins lost the game 3-0.
There has been a lot of talk recently about how many Americans don't like hockey because of the violence, but I wonder if that really is true. I think many Americans don't like hockey for the same reason many Canadians don't like basketball: they didn't grow up playing it and don't understand the subtleties of the game.
To me, the best way to improve the NHL would be to make it a 22-team league, dropping eight teams and more than 160 players, meaning the elimination of many fourth-line goons and cheap-shot artists, allowing the skilled players to shine the way they did during the Olympics.
But I'm sure that wouldn't be considered a good business plan by the NHL or the players' association.
So expect the hits to keep coming and the gloves to drop.
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