There are four major team sports in North America – Baseball, Football, Basketball and Hockey. There is a reason hockey is always listed last in that quartet and it was on display at Madison Square Garden this week.
At its best, hockey is a graceful display of skills on ice. At its worst and far too often, it is a display of thuggish, brutality that is celebrated as just part of the game.
Tom Wilson is a winger with the Washington Capitals and a charter member of hockey’s thuggish, brutality fraternity. He has been suspended five times for his behavior on the ice. But that does not include an outrageous explosion of temper against the New York Rangers.
In what began as a typical hockey scrum, Wilson found himself on top of Pavel Buchnevich, who was face down on the ice. This, Wilson decided, was a good time to punch Buchnevich in the back of the head, massaging his face even further into the ice. When Artemi Panarin objected, Wilson grabbed him by the hair and threw him to the ice like a rag doll, injuring the Ranger player and sidelining him for the remainder of the season. Sent to the penalty box, Wilson preened and flexed his muscles like a circus strong man.
For this display of violence, Wilson was fined $5,000 – a fraction of his $4 million salary and the limit allowed by the collective bargaining agreement with the players union. He also escaped any further suspension.
The Rangers were justifiably outraged at this slap on the wrist for a repeat offender and issued a statement questioning the judgment of the NHL’s director of player safety, George Parros. The league was not amused and leveled a $250,000 fine on the team for having the nerve to complain about the light sentence and to question the judgment of one of its executives.
So who is this George Parros character who is in charge of player safety. He’s a former player, equipped with a degree from Princeton University and a bit of an attitude. He embraced the role of an enforcer on his NHL teams, ready, perhaps even eager, to drop his gloves and start throwing punches. He played nine NHL seasons and had over 100 penalty minutes in each of the first seven.
In his after-on-ice life, he has an apparel company called “Violent Gentlemen.’’ And he is in charge of player safety in the NHL. They are joking, right?
He didn’t seem particularly concerned with the player safety of Buchnevich or Panarin. Neither did the on-ice linesmen and referees who routinely stand around, watching the action, when players drop their gloves and start whacking one another.
Wilson? Without a sixth suspension that he so richly deserved, he’s free to go on his merry way, thugging his way through game after game.
And that’s why hockey is listed last among North America’s major team sports.