Not all that long ago I was a Flyers fanatic. But now, as the Flyers return to the playoffs, I don’t really care. In fact, I have come to hate them a little.
In grade school, I would go to Flyers’ games with my stepfather. We always had the same terrible nosebleed seats, but it didn’t matter to me. As an eleven year old kid, I was thrilled to be amongst the die-hard fans in the upper sections of the Spectrum while players like Tim Kerr and Pelle Lindberg skated way down below on the glowing ice. Even now, I can recall the raucous sound of our section. One fan always brought an ancient wooden ratchet, usually used to summon firefighters to the firehouse. After a Flyers’ goal, he’d hoist this huge wooden instrument the size of a fire hydrant over his head and spin it around and around like an enormous New Year’s Eve noisemaker. The sound was deafening, and I loved it.
I found hockey exhilarating. In fact, I am still amazed at how someone can slightly redirect an 80 mile-an-hour slap shot with a long piece of wood, while simultaneously maintaining a firm, standing position on ice as one or two opponents try to muscle him out of the crease. Arguably, it takes the most coordination of all major sports.
I also loved the fights. In my eyes, they were justified. And they were spectacular. A great thrill was seeing a player who rarely fought — a small, fast “skill” player perhaps — take off his gloves and jump in on a throw down. There was nothing better than a warranted retaliation by a player who’d been harassed. If I was lucky enough to be at the game when a fight broke out and the entire stadium went berserk, so did I.
But a lot has changed since my youthful fandom. I now think the league is too violent, and the Flyers have come to represent the most goony, vicious, and pathetic of all the NHL teams. My change of heart is partly just growing up—it is harder to revel in gratuitous violence when you have kids and detest your country’s thoughtless endorsement of costly wars. I am working hard to cope with the fact that many of my favorite sports are built on an ugly violence. Football, from high school to pro, has more long-term health consequences (particularly from routine concussions) than boxing—the patently violent sport that receives the bounty of heavy scrutiny.
But there is also something categorically different about NHL and particularly the Philadelphia Flyers. The NHL has always liked fights. Almost every team is known to have at least one goon whose charge is to openly inflict violence on opponents. There are the occasional fines, reprimands, and public outrage that follow the most heinous acts. Then there are the Flyers. They lead the league in suspensions (the egregious hits and cheap shots that are so bad that the NHL cannot look the other way) and are in the top three of each category measuring penalties. It’s not an occasional, spontaneous fight. It’s an institutionalized routine that is no longer meaningful.
Overall, the league does not care about gloves off, stop the game fighting. In fact they like it; fighting is up 33 percent this year.
It would not be that hard to eliminate fights altogether. You could begin simply making all fights an automatic ten game suspension with hefty monetary fines. Fighting will disappear. There is certainly nothing inherently violent about the sport or its participants beyond the physicality of all contact games. If this is hard to believe, just watch the same sport played in other countries, by women, or in college, or during another era.
Next would be to change the league’s championing of the sport’s violence. This could start with the TV analysts who call the games. Take for example this season’s fight between the recently suspended Flyer Riley Cote and the Devils’ Aaron Asham. Not only do the FSN commentators delight in the fisticuffs—“Well, the fans can’t ask for much more than what they have seen here in the last four minutes. Two goals and one of the best fights we’ve seen in awhile…“—but all the people on the ice appear to stand around waiting for the brawl. It appears scripted like pro wrestling.
By the way, while there at Youtube, watch what seems to be Youtube’s most popular hockey fight ever viewed (over six million views). Sure enough, it is the Flyers a few years back.
Unfortunately, I am afraid, the league does not appear inclined to implement such changes because they see the violence as an attraction. So go ahead and call me what you want from the upper sections of the Spectrum (or the corporate boxes of the Wachovia), but I am done. I just can’t root for such a flagrant squad of goons. Perhaps it’s still possible to resurrect my love and root for some other NHL team who plays with some dignity, but this is certainly not this year’s Flyers.
Research on male athletes of all ages has shown that all types of injuries and health -related consequences (not to mention steroid use)have increased tremendously over the last two decades. This article supports the need to retire
“masculinity = violence” from our lives, particularly with our youth.
make that over 9 million views! people can’t get enough.
— brashear Apr 28, 05:14 PM #