Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday's Musings on Sports - The Saner Super Mario or Why the Goons Rule in Uniondale

As regular readers of this blog are aware, the Monday post was usually devoted to sports with highlights and analysis of the Max Kellerman show which formerly aired on 1050 ESPN Radio. Although Max resigned from 1050 more than a year ago (he has recently resurfaced on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles), I have tried to continue the tradition of linking sports to Torah which I believe was an undercurrent of the Max Kellerman show.

On Friday evening there was a hockey game between the playoff bound Pittsburgh Penguins and the cellar dwelling New York Islanders. This game was a grudge match for the Islanders as they had been shutout by the Penguins the week before. To add injury to insult, the Islanders lost their franchise goaltender in that game when he picked a fight with the Penguin goalie and suffered facial fractures from the one punch it took to put him away.

In anticipation of the rematch with the Penguins, the Islanders recalled extra goons from their minor league affiliate. Not long after the game started, there were two major fights including one where a Pittsburgh player left the bench (hockey's yeharaig v'al ya'avor) to protect his goalie. As the night progressed, the game devolved into a series of scrums which featured an Islanders player elbowing a Penguin in the head and then pummeling him into unconsciousness and another fight which was precipitated by a leaping punch from behind to a Penguin player. The total penalty minutes for the game was the third highest in the last twenty plus years.

The NHL acted swiftly to impose discipline for the players transgressions. Two Islander players were suspended (nine and four games respectively) for "deliberate attempts to injure by delivering blows to the head of players who were unsuspecting and unable to defend themselves." [The Penguin who left the bench to protect his goalie was suspended 10 games which is the mandatory penalty for such an act]. Additionally, the Islanders team which is bankrupt in more ways than one was fined $100,000 because the League felt that the team “must bear some responsibility for their failure to control their players.”

After the league meted out its punishments, Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux excoriated the Islanders for their intentional attempts to injure his players. He also openly questioned whether the league had changed for the worse since his retirement and whether he should continue to be involved with the game.

Lemieux's comments are indicative of the tension in the NHL game which is unlike any other professional sport. In most sports, if a player throws a punch he is ejected from the game and can face additional suspension or fines. In hockey, fighting is allowed and players who fight are penalized five minutes for fighting, but can return to the game if they have not committed some other misconduct.

While not attempting to apologize for the sport, I can understand why fighting is allowed in professional hockey. In the heat of battle in a sport with more legalized hitting than any other, tempers can boil over and a simple fist fight can settle the score. On the other hand, when the fight is premeditated and teams bring up their goons from the minor league in order to exact revenge, the league must step in to punish those whose only goal is mayhem.

The difference in penalty between a spontaneous act and a premeditated attempt to injure can be seen in Torah law as well. While two people can commit murder in the same way they can receive two different punishments. If the killer spontaneously kills the victim in an act of rage and without any warnings to him about the consequences of his act, the killer receives the punishment of banishment to an Ir Miklat - a city far from his own where he must live out the rest of his days (or until the kohen gadol dies). However, if the killer acts intentionally and is warned not to take his action, but still takes a life, the killer receives the death penalty for his action.

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