Monday, December 14, 2009

In defense of Don Cherry

Renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator is a leading expert on head injury so when he speaks people listen. He has seen the irreparable damage that can take place following a head injury and is a strong advocate for preventative measures. This past weekend he got a lot of attention his fight against head injuries by labeling Don Cherry as a negative influence by promoting violence in hockey.

People by now know that I’m not a big Cherry fan. Mostly because of his right wing and xenophobic views rather than his views on the game. His flamboyant approach reflects his desire to promote Don Cherry. Hockey is actually second on his list of priorities. However, Cherry’s views on the game reflect the public views and not the other way around. When you go down to the ACC or any arena, a breakaway doesn’t bring people out of their seats unless the home team scores. Yet, every fight brings people to their feet even the reserved Toronto crowds. The game is physical and violent, even the girls game. Don Cherry can’t change that.

Don Cherry does not promote a reckless, dangerous style of hockey. He like many fans of the game like the physicality and believe that fighting actually curtails the dangerous use of sticks. Clearly his approach sees the game teetering on the edge between controlled and uncontrolled violence. Occasionally players go too far and cross the line. The game then has to deal with those individuals and ensure that everyone else gets the message as well. I am not a fan of fighting but I also understand that it cannot be eliminated from the game. Sure there are other sports where any amount of fighting is not tolerated. However, hockey has had fighting since its inception and you just can’t start from scratch. Also Cherry and others are correct. A good on ice beating sometimes works better than a 3 game suspension as a preventative measure in the bad stuff that goes on.

The game has evolved much faster than those “in charge” can adjust to these changes. Protective equipment like elbow and shoulder pads are as effective as weapons as they are in preventing injuries. Hip check virtually disappeared when molded plaster shoulder pads were introduced. Meanwhile, helmet technology has not moved ahead as quickly as say stick technology. Rink also design contributes to injuries. Players do not take proper measures to protect themselves by wearing a chin strap that keeps their helmets on. The game is faster and high speed collisions are more likely to occur with negative consequences. Eliminating obstruction has in fact high speed collisions. Nothing Don Cherry can say is going to change how this game develops. He is merely stating what he likes and doesn’t like. And so is Charles Tator.