Friday, March 11, 2011
As of this Friday morning, a Google News search of two particular names returns 2,166 results. Those names? Air Canada. NHL.
Sports writers, bloggers, hockey fans and others are all talking, tweeting, writing about the recent letter sent by Mr. Denis Vandal to league commissioner Gary Bettman.
Air Canada director of marketing writes letter.
The letter says, “Fix hockey, or lose sponsorship”.
Letter is leaked.
Bettman says, “We can fly other airlines”
Media frenzy begins.
The catalyst of this latest PR debacle, (debacle for who is yet to be determined), was a devastating check by Boston Bruin Zdeno Chara on Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadians.
The puck clears the zone just beyond the Hab’s defensive blueline.
Pacioretty gives chase. Chara closes.
Pacioretty chips past Chara.
Chara interferes with Pacioretty, finishes the check and unfortunately Pacioretty’s head makes contact with the stanchion separating the two benches.
Pacioretty suffers a concussion and fractured cerebral vertebrae.
As a hockey fan, I cannot help but be concerned with what happens next.
Over the past few days I have read and listened to opinions from everywhere. TSN analysts, prominent sports writers, inside the locker room at my local rink, both people who live and breath hockey and people who don’t know much about the game.
I have forced myself to watch the clip a couple times. And with this collection of opinions and visual evidence I have weighed my personal reaction, accounted for my passion and considered all angles whatever the variety.
Simply put: I feel sick.
At first I found the disciplinary measures dealt to Chara to be sufficient. It was clear interference, and nothing more. The play was part of the game.
But now, after some reflection, what I find more disturbing is my last sentence from above, “The play was part of the game.”
I am not sure anymore if the manner in which the game unfolds on a night-to-night basis is just going to lead to something potentially more serious, and with consequences more terrible than anyone can imagine.
I am not sure if it is still okay to accept this level of violence. In fact, I am not sure it ever was.
This obvious thought prompted Mr. Vandal to pen a letter to Mr. Bettman. Whatever you think of the commissioner that presides over the NHL and our game, his response was, by any measure of professionalism, rude and thoughtless. Who speaks to a sponsor like that?
But this isn’t about Mr. Bettman, or Air Canada. Understanding that the world of professional sport is driven by ticket sales and TV revenues and that the airline industry is driven by passenger miles and public image, these two men are simply behaving as one would expect.
Instead, it seems that everyone has forgot about what makes this system exist in the first place.
Chara forgot. When he imposed his 6’9”, 255 lb frame on the smaller Pacioretty and drove him into an immovable object.
Some owners and GMs will tell you that it was a standard hockey play. Of course, the league agreed and Chara had no further punitive measures applied to him.
I say the standard has to change.
We have to change the mentality that will lead a player like Chara to drive an opponent into a known danger area, (between the benches at the Bell Centre). Someone has to tell young hockey players and parents thinking about enrolling that the game isn’t like that.
That we don’t treat people like that.
In sport, we respect our opponents, care about our game and want others to enjoy the fun.
Not lying on the ice, crumbled and unconscious.
I suppose the question is how.
I wouldn’t profess to know the answer right now, but what I do know is that hockey people in high places should pay attention to letters like those issued by Air Canada. Because these letters indicate that the speed, danger and violence that sold hockey in the first place, may be its undoing.