Friday, March 11, 2011

All Things Avs blog: Dater's hypocrisy sensor goes off; unclear if he's using it correctly.

In this blog entry, Dater discusses at length the Chara/Pacioretty incident and the leaguewide response to it. This entry will provide loads of things to discuss, but first, some ground rules.

Pictured at left is a turnbuckle. It's a buckle (like the one on your belt) that you turn (hence the name) to draw two things closer together... typically ropes or cables. Those familiar with hockey rink construction will note that nowhere within the playing surface is anything like this present, yet the word "turnbuckle" is constantly -- and incorrectly -- being used to describe the thing which Pacioretty hit.

The confusion here is due to the fact that turnbuckles are used in wrestling and boxing rings to pull the ropes taut, covered by a protective padding. This has led many, many people to assume that anything sports-related which is padded to prevent injury can be referred to as a "turnbuckle." The object in question in a hockey rink, however, is correctly referred to as a stanchion, whether it's padded or not.

To be fair, Dater is hardly alone in this mistake and I don't mean to single him out on this one. There are not only plenty of fans, but also players and other hockey 'experts' who have been referring to stanchions as turnbuckles for years, but that doesn't make it any less incorrect. Turnbuckle is a word that describes a specific thing, so let's get it right. The stupidifying of the English language is progressing at an astonishing rate; Newspeak is around the corner. Admirers of the English language, unite! 

Now, on to the blog entry. The basis of this entry is the fact that Air Canada, one of the NHL's larger sponsors, has threatened to pull their sponsorship in light of the devastating injury sustained by Montreal's Max Pacioretty. In this entry, Dater starts by recapping things a bit. He moves on to assert that because Air Canada took no action seven years ago when Todd Bertuzzi broke Steve Moore's neck, that they are being hypocrites now by speaking up against the Chara hit.

I do think it's fair to draw a connection between these two incidents and to question why Air Canada responded one way seven years ago, and a different way today. However, rather than offer a good discussion of this topic, these events, the differing environments in which they took place, and the way the league's response affects peoples' (and corporations') opinions, Dater jumps straight to the sensational "hypocrisy" charge... and that's not fair.

The fact that Air Canada did nothing seven years ago should not bind their hands and prevent them from doing something now. I think it's reasonable to look at these two incidents, rather than as separate and isolated occurrences, as points on a continuum of violence and serious injury in the sport... McSorely/Brashear, Bertuzzi/Moore, and now Chara/Pacioretty... with plenty of lesser ones in between. The fact that all three are not perfectly identical to one another doesn't really matter... from a global perspective, they are all examples of extreme violence in the sport, and as it continues, it's fair to question whether the league has done enough to stop it. Each subsequent occurrence builds on the ones that came before it, making the problem more and more apparent.

The fact that AC did not speak up at any previous point should not prevent them from seeing this incident as their "enough is enough" moment. It doesn't make them hypocrites to speak up about the Chara hit after the previous ten years of violent incidents, any more than it would make a parent a hypocrite to ignore his kid the first three times he burps at the dinner table and then to tell him to stop it the fourth time it happens.

So, why did Air Canada speak up after this incident, and not before? As I said, part of the reason is likely because it's the latest in a string of incidents that have built up, and this was the "last straw," for Air Canada and a lot of others, too. But it also seems logical to assume that because it happened to the Montreal Canadiens, it got more of a response than it might have had it happened elsewhere. Something that happens to the New York Yankees is going to get more attention than something that happens to the Kansas City Royals... it's not hypocrisy, it's just the way the world works.

And of course, there is the fact that the NHL's responses to these incidents were polar opposites... Air Canada and other critics are not necessarily upset with the hit itself, but with how the NHL dealt with it. Certainly, different situations call for different responses, but that is the aspect in which Dater makes his biggest error.

In his attempts to defend his argument from criticism, Dater takes a very bad step when he writes this:

I have heard from a few people saying “Yeah, but Bertuzzi was punished by the NHL over that incident. Chara wasn’t. There’s the difference.” Nobody with a brain is going to compare the Bertuzzi incident with the Chara hit. Those were two TOTALLY DIFFERENT things.

The problem here is that Dater himself has built his entire "hypocrisy" charge based on a comparison of these two incidents, and now he's calling people brainless if they want to follow his lead and compare these two incidents? Can't have it that way, Dater. If he wants to use the things that are similar between Bertuzzi/Moore and Chara/Pacioretty to illustrate his point that AC are being hypocrites, fine... but when it comes time to acknowledge that there are differences between these two situations -- specifically, in the way the league responded to them -- that may explain Air Canada's differing reactions to each, he shuts that down before it can start. Dater basically calls anybody "stupid" who would dare look any further into his example than he wants them to.

The truth is that there are similarities between the two on-ice incidents, and clear-cut differences in how the league responded to them. No, the Bertuzzi incident is not completely concentric with the Chara hit, but it doesn't have to be to be used as a starting point for discussion, as Dater has done. Both injuries were the result of a somewhat typical occurrence during a hockey game (punching a guy in the head, interfering with a guy away from the puck) and they both had a horrible result that nobody can reasonably assume was the premeditated intent of the person who did it. But, the NHL responded quickly and with authority to the Bertuzzi incident, realizing that even though he didn't intend to break anybody's neck, he still did... yet the league did absolutely nothing in the way of punishment to Chara, despite his actions being just as responsible for leading to a broken neck as Bertuzzi's were.

Again, is every detail between these two incidents identical? No, they aren't... but if there's enough similarity there for Dater to hang them up next to each other to accuse somebody of hypocrisy, there's enough similarity between them to question why one incident was met with an indefinite suspension, and the other resulted in no action whatsoever.

Dater won't allow that question, however, and calls you "brainless" if you're going to ask it. I don't have a problem with Dater building a bridge between Bertuzzi/Moore and Chara/Pacioretty to make his point... the problem comes when he then forbids anybody else to use the bridge he just built. THAT's hypocrisy, folks. Dater's as guilty of that here as he thinks Air Canada is.

Dater moves on, thankfully, to discuss the hit itself. He puts most of the blame on the way the arena is built, and uses the similar hit on Ryan Smyth a couple years back (which also went unpunished by the NHL) as support of this. Dater writes,

...No suspension was given to Johnson on that hit, and I can’t find a lot of difference in that hit than the one done by Chara – save for the puck being further away from Pacioretty than it was Smyth, in which case Chara indeed deserved an interference penalty.

I find it funny that in the same breath with which he acknowledges the incredibly important difference between these two hits, he dismissed that difference as practically insignificant. But it isn't... Ryan Smyth had the puck. When you have the puck, you can expect to get hit, because it is legal to hit a guy with the puck. The Smyth hit was a clean hit in an unfortunate part of the rink.

(As an aside, players do realize where they are on the ice. If a player can let up and not board somebody, he can let up and not throw them into the stanchion just as easily. It's a rule I would like to see changed/added).

Chara's hit, however, was not legal, and it was not clean. The puck was thirty feet away from Pacioretty when he was hit... if Dater thinks that's "not a lot of difference," I have to question whether he understands the basics of this game. When you hit a guy illegally, and he is seriously hurt, you should expect consequences.

Another facet which Dater does not acknowledge is the hit to the head. There was no hit to Smyth's head, Johnson got his shoulder into him but did not target the head. As the photo above shows, however, there was most definitely contact to Pacioretty's head. The league supposedly has "cracked down" on blindside hits to the head... but then why does a play that includes a penalty, a hit to the head, AND a broken neck not warrant some sort of suspension? Isn't this exactly the sort of thing the league has been saying they want out of the game?

This is a dangerous, dangerous game. That’s the bottom line. People who think they may be able to legislate all the violence out of the game are on a complete fool’s errand. It’s not going to happen. Unless they just do away with the sport entirely. 

Yes, it is a dangerous game. But, that does not mean that the league should not take steps to keep that danger to a minimum, and the league could definitely have taken some steps in this case. Yes, the construction of the rink itself is a huge factor in this injury, and if there are design changes that can be implemented, the league should look into them. But this was also a dangerous hit because it was an illegal hit, and there's a reason that hits like that are illegal... because the more you hit people like that, the more likely somebody is to get hurt.

The league got this one wrong. Do I want to see Chara suspended for twenty games? Absolutely not... but he should have been suspended for two or three, because his recklessness directly contributed to Pacioretty's injury, and these types of injuries ARE preventable. The league should have sent the message that if you play like that, and somebody gets hurt because of it, there will be a substantial penalty. Canadiens fans would have called two games a slap on the wrist... but Chara didn't even get a slap on the wrist. He got his hair tousled, and Bettman said "Aw shucks, how can I stay mad at you?!" Canadiens fans are, as usual, overreacting to the extreme... but under all that typical nonsense, they do have a point.

I don't really have a problem with Dater's criticism of Air Canada... not that I think they're being hypocrites (they aren't), but I do think that AC is being reactionary here, and could have voiced their concerns in a much different (and more professional) way. I think Dater is dead wrong about the hit, though... Chara should have been disciplined by the NHL, because it was an illegal and dangerous hit. Hits like these can be prevented... there's a rule against boarding, there should be a rule against throwing a guy against a stanchion. Considering the extent of Pacioretty's injury, Chara should have received a suspension, to demonstrate that hits like that are not a part of the game.

Ultimately, the reader is left with the impression that Dater is less interested in the Chara hit than he is about using this as an excuse to bring up the Bertuzzi/Moore incident all over again. Dater's attempt to connect Bertuzzi and Chara, without allowing any dissenting opinions to do the same, just comes across as a juvenile way to present his argument. To start a comparison using those two as examples, base his entire theory on that comparison, and then reject any further discussion based on that same example, is truly hypocritical... and thereby rather ironic in a blog entry dealing with hypocrisy. This important topic deserved a much better discussion than what Dater gives it here.

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