The NHL on trial

by Kevin Allen | 10/3/00 5:00am

In case you didn't realize, let me tell you that the whole hockey world is holding its breath until Oct. 6. On that fateful day, the verdict will be released in the Marty McSorley trial, a verdict which could change the face of hockey.

Don't follow hockey, eh? Well, let me bring you up to speed. Last season, with 2.7 seconds left on the clock in a game between Boston and Vancouver, and the Bruins losing 5-2, Bruins defenseman Marty McSorley decided to send a message to Canucks defenseman Donald Brashear. McSorley raised his stick and chopped Brashear on the right temple with his stick.

Brashear crumpled to the ice, twitching, with blood flowing from his nose. He was unconscious and was taken off the ice on a stretcher.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman acted swiftly and suspended McSorley indefinitely. While Bettman thought the punishment fit the crime, the Crown prosecutor's office in Vancouver thought otherwise.

The investigation that followed produced the charge of assault. Thus, if McSorley is convicted, he faces a maximum of 18 months in jail.

So really, hockey violence is under scrutiny.

Most of the people I know love the violence of hockey. Some like it better than any other part of the gameis that a problem? When hockey fans see an elbow to the head or a check into the boards, they cheer (if the person getting hurt is on the other team) because it's a part of the game. So there's an implied consent of violence going on here, but where do we draw the line?

If you were walking down the street and someone hit you in the head with a stick, you'd want that person to go to jail, plain and simple. But the feelings about the hit delivered by McSorley are clearly mixed. The NHL veteran claims that he never intended to hit Brashear in the temple, but some people feel that the hit was intentional and uncalled for. Others think it that while he might not have meant to do so much damage, McSorley must be held responsible for his actions. A quiet minority feel that Donald Brashear is a big baby.

If McSorley is convicted, the NHL will be forced reexamine its rules on violence. As it is, the NHL is the only one of the big four that allows fighting and while that might not change, we could see more stringent stickhandling rules.

I guess I'm just wondering how much professional sports should be allowed to police themselves. We saw the 49ers suspend and fine Terrell Owens for his antics the other week and rightly so. In McSorley's situation, he was already suspended indefinitely by the commissioner, he doesn't deserve to be publicly dragged through the mud.

Unfortunately, McSorley was in the wrong place at the wrong time. If people ever wanted legal backing to tone down hockey, this is the perfect opportunity. The video of Brashear lying on the ice was must have been replayed over a million times in just the next 24 hours, effectively tugging on the hearts of people all across North America. The hit looked pretty gruesome, and it didn't help that McSorley is Caucasian and Brashear is of African descent; the people wanted justice. This apparently was a matter that was bigger than the NHL, a matter for the courts to decide.

They say you can't escape the long arm of the law, so now Oct. 6 is judgement day. If the jury believes that there is some sort of implied consent to violence in hockey and that the incident is not so gruesome that it falls outside the bounds of normal hockey, then McSorley will walk and all bone-crushing hockey action will probably be safe. If convicted, a less violent NHL could be in store. All you sports fans thristing for hits shouldn't worry though, even if the NHL gets a little less violent, there's always the XFL, eh?