My friend Chris “Gootz” Hoeler who has made several guest posts on this blog in the past, responded to a Tweet made by ESPN’s Peter Gammons the other day, when he took a shot at the sport of hockey following the melee that ensued in a game between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames, where multiple fights as part of an opening-face-off line brawl escalated into us witnessing Vancouver’s hot-headed coach, John Tortorella, attempt to make his way into the Flames’ locker room to have a go at their head coach Bob Hartley. While this behavior cannot be condoned, and both coaches are a fault, Gammons, mainly a baseball reporter (a sport which is no-doubt angelic when it comes to image), had no right to insult the NHL and call them a “minor sport”, especially with recent reports saying that professional hockey is selling out more than basketball, and attendance and awareness is definitely increasing due to the excitement of the sport and instituting of several outdoor Stadium Series games this month. And now, I will turn it over to Chris for his thoughts:
No doubt you have seen the highlights of last night’s Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames game. If not, you can check it out here. In a nutshell, Flames Head Coach Bob Hartley decides to start his tough guys for the game and, as only fair and I think he should have done, Canucks Head Coach John Tortorella responded by putting his team’s equivalent out there. Obviously, by the highlight, things escalated rapidly. It didn’t end there as Torts was at the Flames locker room at the end of the first period trying to seemingly get Hartley for what he did. Check it out on TSN here. In the end, Vancouver got the last laugh with a 3-2 shootout win.
So what got me to write about this? One of my biggest pet peeves as a sports person is when pundits of another sport chime in and make dumb comments about another sport they have no involvement with. I’ll admit I have done it myself in the past and I’m sure other people have as well. It can be a foot-in-mouth moment where you make yourself look bad. Of course, there is a bit of a difference when Average Joe or Jane fan does it and when a respected journalist and sports reporter does it. This time it was ESPN’s Peter Gammons, one of the most respected sports journalists in the American landscape for his work on baseball. Apparently he saw the highlight of last night’s brawl and decided to tweet this morning:
Calgary and Vancouver last night reiterated why the NHL is a minor sport
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) January 19, 2014
As a hockey person, I am used to people ragging on it and its shortcomings. Hockey is behind the NFL, MLB, and NBA (although maybe not basketball with this recent article) in the grand scheme of things. I’m not disputing that. The issue that happened with the hockey game last night was because of what happened on the ice. Did it spill over? Yes. Things get out of control and they can spill over. I have personally been apart of and seen some epic spill overs in hockey during my time as a team staff member.
One reason that fighting is allowed in hockey is because of the emotion that comes out in a highly physical game. As much as people may hate fighting in hockey, it has a place in the game. The staged stuff is going away but there are instances where a fight serves a purpose. That is the short, short version of my opinion on fighting. But let us take a look at baseball Mr. Gammons. Is baseball without incidents of violence? How about these? Or this? Or this when a 70+ year old man was thrown to the ground? There are plenty of other examples out there I could grab off YouTube. The point I am making here is don’t think baseball doesn’t have its incidents of violence that can make it look foolish at times.
Secondly, you called hockey a “minor” sport. Revenue wise? Yes hockey is minor compared to baseball. But it was not too long ago back in the 1990s that attendance was a major issue and the most important factor in bringing back the fans was players who were using performance enhancing drugs. Whether it was Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s home run race or Barry Bonds chasing records fans flocked to the ballpark to see guys hit home runs who normally were not hitting the levels they were hitting. It got to the point where Congress needed to get involved to try to figure out what was going on. And now some of the most talented players in baseball history will more than likely never see the inside of the Hall of Fame because of it.
Now what am I saying by pointing all of this out? I am NOT saying that hockey has not had or doesn’t have problems now. Every sport does. Every sport has bad incidents and press. It comes with the territory of sports. I recognize that. The easy way out of this is to talk about NHL Lockouts or hits to the head or fighting or goons or whatever you want to bring up. Guaranteed someone throws the link of Mike Milbury hitting a NY fan with a shoe at some point here.
All I am saying is that someone as respected and knowledgeable about the sports landscape as Peter Gammons should just think about the context from which he is speaking. I love the game of baseball and I think it is a great sport. But when you are a baseball person and start picking out problems of other sports, just remember that “America’s Past Time” has had some of the biggest problems in sports in recent memory.