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The NFL can learn from NHL

March 23, 2012
By Brandon Veale - DMG Sports Editor ( , The Houghton Daily Mining Gazette

Are you nuts? A bounty? We could all end up in the clinker for this. You can't put a bounty on a man's head."

I was reading this quote on TSN hockey guru Bob McKenzie's Twitter feed Wednesday as the NFL exploded. All ESPN's horses and all ESPN's men may not be able to put Gregg Williams' coaching career back together again, but if the network ever showed hockey on Sportscenter (Up Next: The top 10 NFL preseason incompletions!), they could learn a thing for two from the Charlestown Chiefs and their beleaguered general manager Joe McGrath, who McKenzie quoted above from the movie "Slap Shot."

Of course, Reg Dunlop of the Chiefs was putting out bounties well before Saints coach Sean Payton put on cleats, but when he called out the Syracuse Bulldogs' Tim McCracken, he was just stirring the pot. As Joe said, "You can't put a bounty on a man's head."

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The Saints must not have seen "Slap Shot," which is too bad. It's a classic. Then again, it appears several of them are going to have a lot of time on their hands to watch movies.

Roger Goodell suspended the Saints' boss for the entire 2012 season, suspended the general manager for half the season, suspended an assistant coach for six games, fined the Saints $500,000, took away two draft picks and may have given former Williams, the team's former defensive coordinator, now of the Rams, the death penalty if he could get it through the courts.

The NFL has issued its edict: wanton violence shall not be permitted.

Meanwhile, NHL players dropped the gloves for a line brawl to start a Rangers-Devils game earlier this week - a small riot in front of thousands of people - and the whole thing is viewed as something of an amusing departure from the 82-game monotony of 'getting pucks to the net,' 'taking away time and space,' and 'winning the puck battles.'

Of course, hard hits are ingrained into the fabric of hockey and the debate over fighting in the professional game has simmered for as long as I've watched hockey. It's slowly marching toward the dustbin of useless sports arguments like whether or not the designated hitter is baseball blasphemy, what it will take to make soccer popular in America and whether or not golf is a sport.

How is it that violence in football has been elevated to a national crisis and violence in hockey is just a topic for academics and Don Cherry to yell back and forth at each other?

It has to do with the spirit of the thing.

The NFL has increasingly marketed itself as gladitorial combat between faceless helmeted competitors. Part of why wearing the wrong-colored socks is a fineable offense is because the league doesn't want anything other than 32 interchangeable teams of interchangeable parts. But when those parts crash into each other 99 times and bounce back up, the 100th of those is a tragedy when they don't.

The NHL guys take their helmets off to fight. The fans can see their faces bleed. It's exciting, but it comes with a hint of trepidation. After all, these men carry large sticks around and know how to use them, but only when they swing them (or their bodies) with ill will do the big suspensions come out.

But a scrap, a little blood here and there? In most cases, that's just boys being boys. Everyone skates to the box for their five minutes, there are stick taps on the boards and the game resumes.

The Saints were attempting to deliberately damage other players' livelihoods with their bounties and the punishment meted out, though severe on first glance, is probably warranted. What they did wasn't sport, it was organized assault.

As for two fourth-liners having a go at it in a blowout? Heck, they may be supporting each other's livelihoods by keeping the toehold of relevancy enforcers have in today's NHL.

Disclaimer: I don't support fighting in hockey, particularly in youth or junior hockey.

Disclaimer: I don't support the banning of fighting in hockey, either.

If two consenting adults, informed about the dangers that repeated blows to the head can have long-term, want to throw hands on the ice, who's to stop them?

If I were an NHL player, I wouldn't want to fight in this day and age, but some do. I wouldn't miss it if were banned, but I'm not offended when it happens.

No one asked Brett Favre if he wanted to have a contract put on his head.

And for that, the Saints will go to the box, you know, serve their suspension by themselves, you know, and feel shame, you know. And then, they'll get free.

Brandon Veale is sports editor of the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette.



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