What the NHL could learn from the NFL
It's called a zero tolerance policy.
When I checked the New York Times this morning, I noticed a headline about a “questionable” play in which Sidney Crosby was “taken out” of the game by another player.
I clicked play on the video and watched as Sidney Crosby, the best player in the world, a player with a history of concussions, was violently struck in the head by another player—with no consequences for anyone other than Crosby.
As a hockey player, it gives me no pleasure to tell you that the injury to Crosby was intentional. It was a Muy Thai style elbow strike to Crosby’s face. The only intention was to injure him—and to get away with it. This is made more sickening when you consider that Crosby has dealt with a history of concussive injuries, and the offending player knew this.
Now, I’d like to ask you to imagine a defensive lineman in the NFL delivering a massive elbow strike to Tom Brady’s face.
Would that be called a “questionable play” or would the announcers be utterly outraged? Would they shame the defensive lineman as they watched the replay? And again as the quarterback left the field?
Would they not only condemn the lineman’s actions but also call into question his character? Would they use such words as inexcusable and shameful?
Might they wonder aloud whether such a player should be banned from the NFL? Not just fined and suspended for a few games—which are punishments the NFL doles out to players who might unintentionally harm other players in a way that is questionable.
Can we imagine a scenario in which that NFL lineman would be allowed to continue playing for the rest of the game without consequence?
And if his team went on to win the game (as the Rangers did in this case, after Crosby left the ice) would the coaches and players celebrate wildly as if they had just achieved a great victory?
Or would one NFL player after another step up to the podium and soberly say how regrettable the injury to Tom Brady was. That they hated to win like that.
In the days that followed, would every NFL pundit publicly shame the lineman and call for his banishment from the league? Would that player make tearful public apologies?
Intead, according to the New York Times:
There was no penalty issued on the play, and the National Hockey League’s office of player safety will not assess any fine or suspension.
In other words, the official policy is far from zero tolerance. It is 100% tolerance.
As physical and tough as the NFL is, they have zero tolerance for acts of violence. Throw even one punch? Deliberately try to injure another player? Every player, every coach, every referee knows there is zero tolerance.
You don’t need to stand by and let players make “questionable” plays. The NFL seems to realize that doing so damages one’s most important asset, the players themselves—in the case of Crosby, the best player in the world. How does standing by profit anyone?
How much private suffering does the current policy perpetuate? For the players—not just Crosby, but all the players who sustain senseless brain injuries? How much suffering for their wives and children? How many years of private anguish for each publicly questionable play?
It’s inexcusable. Unjustifiable. Shameful. And it serves no one.