Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Shylock Approach

Greetings Friends,

There has been a lot of chatter lately about what to do about all the concussions in sports, particularly in hockey. I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, mentioning how it was discovered that deceased legendary NHL enforcer Bob Probert's brain showed signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) when it was examined by researchers at the Boston University Center for the study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Last week, NHL general managers met and could not agree upon a worthy course of action to protect their own players. Instituting some sort of head-checking penalty would have been the logical solution, but these guys don't seem to want to rock the boat. Even with Sidney Crosby still sitting out since January. 

With all the horrific events going on in the world, sports should be balm to our wounded psyches. Instead, it has become fraught with controversy: everything from potentially catastrophic injuries, labour disputes, drug use; even good old Bernard Madoff has left his mark on the sports world by reducing New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon to a state of penury, and the team in total disarray. In addition to things being totally crappy on a global scale, you can't even find comfort in cheering for your favourite sports team with out it smarting on some level.

The head injury dilemma in hockey is very disturbing because I have always been such a big fan of the game. Since I've been living in Canada, I have gained an additional perspective of witnessing how Canadian fans react to the game's many controversies. There seems to be more concern for the kids playing the game, particularly those in the Canadian junior leagues, since many of those players wind up playing in the NHL. Remember, Canadian colleges and universities do no offer sports scholarships, so that leaves out a governing body like the NCAA (such as it is) that would advocate for player safety. Instead, Hockey Canada, the powers that be in this country, is about as limp as a pot of overcooked spaghetti when it comes to bringing about significant change. I remain convinced that we will see a player die on the ice before there is some sort of meaningful reform. I don't want to see that happen, which is why I've come up with my own plan of action.

I've decided to call it "The Shylock Approach". Hence the photo of Al Pacino as "Shylock" from the film version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. I'm not suggesting the literal cutting of a pound of flesh from the offender, but I am suggesting that if the perpetrating individual inflicts an injury of the magnitude that requires a player to sit out for months in order to recover - if he recovers at all - that player should sit out an equal length of time. And, if the career of the injured player is cut short by the injury, than the guilty party's career should meet with the same fate. A measure this drastic might be the only way to put a stop to the alarming regularity with which these guys go after each other. NHL style justice is about as credible as all those e-mails I get telling me I've won the Nigerian lottery. The only way to teach a bunch of adrenaline-pumped professional athletes to respect each other is to take a "pound of flesh" stance that may just give them pause to think before they throw that elbow. You never know until you try. Nothing else has worked so far, and the last thing we need on top of earthquakes, tsunamis and psychotic Middle Eastern despots, is an athlete getting killed on the playing field. 

A Shakespearean tragedy makes for a good read, but to watch one play out in real life is not something I relish. Yes, "Shylocking" has become a euphemism for loan-sharking, and we all know what happens when you don't make payments. The "penalties" can be avoided, wherever they happen to occur. 


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