Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Refs Complicit in Fighting?

To begin, I'm not much of a hockey fan.  I just don't get it.  That doesn't mean it's not entertaining to you, to the entire population of cold-weather living people, that these guys aren't incredible athletes, or that it has no value.  It just means I don't enjoy watching it.  I watched it plenty as a kid, going to 5-10 Capitals games a year for a number of years.  I think it is an extremely interesting league from the standpoint of my academic interests.  But I never really enjoyed watching.  People say the same to me about baseball.  That's fine, it's not for everyone.  So you can take my following comments with a grain of salt if you like, or as blatant ignorance of what goes on in the sport on the ice.

Despite the idea that hockey has attempted to get rid of fighting, it is obvious to me that this is pure theater by Bettman and the owners.  In fact, given the video below, I suspect there is an explicit instruction to referees to not actually break up the fights until someone hits the ice.  (Hat Tip to Charlie Brown for the video)


These guys took up their boxing positions with everyone watching, including fellow players and referees, and not a single person bothered to try and separate them or stand between them.  In fact, the referee takes the initiative to pick up the debris (stick, etc.) and get it out of the way for when they throw down.  There is little question in my mind about the referees' complicity in these events on the ice, and I would not be surprised if they were given explicit instructions to let these things play out for the entertainment of the fans.  There is not a real safety concern for the refs or the players in breaking these two up as they are standing 10 feet from each other in their boxing poses.  This one looks almost to the point that it was staged.

McGinn had a broken orbital bone, likely having to do with his face-plant into the ice.  That is not a minor injury.   Not even close.  I know it has been said before, but if this happened in the stands someone would be on their way to prison.  This on-ice fight is no more acceptable to me than the video below, though I imagine there is more outrage there than the hockey fight.  At least in the baseball game, everyone didn't stand around and look the other way for a full 30 seconds while the batter/runner punched the pitcher in the face (Hat Tip to Tangotiger for the video below).


Note that I have the same issue with throwing at batters.  For a long time, I loved Pedro Martinez as a player, but after his many escapades with throwing at batters (not just throwing inside, but his throwing AT them and then talking about it) I no longer had any interest.  I feel the same way about Cole Hamels after the Bryce Harper beaning.  I don't think Selig did enough.  Hamels should have been suspended for the season.

Congress chastises leagues for PED use (particularly baseball for whatever stupid reasons they may have).  But why don't authorities bother with these sorts of incidents, where the league (with questionable antitrust status) is complicit in injuring its employees?  Assumed risk does not include violent assaults in any profession (and I would argue that this even includes boxing and MMA).

Let's make a comparison.  Wikipedia reports that the rate of reported aggravated assaults yearly in Detroit, Michigan is about 0.18% (1,334 assaults per 713,000 or so people).  Detroit isn't exactly a peachy place to live, in terms of crime.  In fact, the shortage of police there is becoming a huge problem.  Some calls take hours before an officer arrives at the scene.  In Los Angeles, a safer city but also a place where violent gang crime has been a serious issue in the past, there are 230 aggravated assaults per 3.84 million people.  That's a rate of .006%.

From Hockey Fight Statistics, in the 2011-2012 season (the lowest fight penalty rate since 06-07), there were 546 fights.  Give or take 700 total NHL players in a given season, we have a rate of about 78%.  That is an aggravated assault rate of 433 times the rate in the city of Detroit.  It is 13,000 times the rate in Los Angeles.

Incentives tend to work.  If you are caught breaking people's skulls in Detroit--even given the lack of police force there--you go to jail.  Same goes for LA.  The incentives against fighting in the NHL (and hitting batters in MLB) are laughable, at best.

**Note: Yes, there are probably differences in the severity of crimes that are reported in Detroit and LA, versus all "fight penalties" in hockey.  But even assuming that unreported aggravated assault in these cities is ten times what is reported, and assuming that only a quarter of NHL fights would be up to the standards of aggravated assault, the differences are still astonishing to me.

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