6-9-11: Athletes Behaving Badly

Hello again everybody...

I'd honestly intended today's blog to be the second half of my All-Star ballot, but alas, that is not to be.

A couple of incidents have occurred this week that have my blood boiling. And as much as friends and colleagues have attempted to calm me down and offer perspective, I can't shake my annoyance.

What does that mean?

You got it, “epic rant” time.

Okay, I'm not sure “epic” is the right word - we'll see how things stand when I get done writing.

But I'm not holding anything back. I'm worked up and it's time for the spleen to be vented.

Said ventilation begins...

Right after the quote!

“For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”
- Luke 12:48

I don't go to the bible well very often... in fact, this is probably the first time in the three years I've been at this writing thing... but I was put in mind of this quote by someone who attempted to mitigate the incidents I'm about to rant on by saying, “your standards are too high”.

Sorry, but I don't think they are. I'll explain why as I tell you about some...

Athletes Behaving Badly

I'll start with the one that has me least agitated... Vancouver Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome.

If you missed the late hit he put on Bruins forward Nathan Horton in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, take a look:

I like physicality in hockey. I like players playing with speed and passion. And if that means someone gets knocked off their skates, fine. If that player gets injured, fine. That's part of the game.

But when it happens because of a dirty hit? Not okay.

What makes this particular hit so offensive?

One, Horton had given up the puck before Rome ever began to set himself for the hit. That's an interference penalty at a minimum, and most aptly described as a horrifically bad decision. It's one thing to finish a check. It's another thing to line up a guy who's already clearly surrendered the puck. That's wrong. That's dirty.

Two, Horton's head was down. Some of that's on Horton. When you skate through the middle of the ice in the NHL, you have to have your head up, otherwise a completely clean and legitimate hit could still be disastrous for you. But there's no way you can convince me that Rome didn't see and recognize the fact that Horton's head was down. The play developed right in front of him. I can't imagine how he didn't see it and decide to act anyway. That's wrong. That's dirty.

Three, Rome leaves his feet. When you're hitting a player in open ice and you leave your feet to do it, where do you think contact is most likely to be made? The only answer is at, or near the impacted player's head. That's wrong. That's dirty.

Rome was given a game misconduct penalty and tossed from the game. Subsequent to that the NHL suspended him for four games. That means at a minimum he'll miss the rest of the Finals. If the series ends in less than seven games, that suspension will carry over to next season.

My view? That's not enough. Not nearly enough.

When a player makes a hit this egregious, a message needs to be sent by the league. This will not be tolerated. This will not stand.

Speed, passion and aggression are what makes hockey such a fantastic sport to watch, but there are lines and they simply can't be crossed.

But when the punishment for crossing them is a measly four games, what message are you sending?

“Gee, we wish you hadn't done that, but we don't want to get reversed on appeal, so we'll suspend you for four games and hope you just take it.”

Way to send a strong message NHL! I'm sure that'll make the next guy think twice before nearly taking someone's head off!

[Insert sarcasm here.]

The Hammer, my co-worker, and one of the most passionate hockey fans I know (seriously folks, if you like hockey and haven't read his work, do yourself a favor, click on his name, and peruse his goodness) argues that the suspension was right on.

It's his contention that Rome isn't a dirty player, has no reputation for this, didn't use his elbow and therefore had no intent to injure Horton. Therefore, while a suspension was merited, a severe one was not.

I can't help it, I just disagree. There's no way we can determine with any degree of certainty (copyright Anthony Weiner) what was in Rome's mind. But based on the three elements I outlined previously, the possibility of injury was too high for to have any other outcome. Therefore, whatever Rome's “intent” was, he should be punished for the outcome of his actions, not for his intention.

Hammer also wants to give Rome a break since Aaron himself was a victim of a similar dirty hit earlier in the season. I say that's all the more reason to punish Rome. Of all people, he should know better than to put himself in a position to give out a hit like that.

Think my standards are too high? I don't think so. I think it's fair to expect a guy who's played hockey his entire life to act reasonably towards a vulnerable player on the ice.

“Oh, I didn't mean to do that” doesn't cut it here.

Aaron Rome's been blessed with the talents to play at the NHL level. It's ungracious of him to disrespect his fellow players and the game by throwing a hit like that.

“For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

Oh, and the bittersweet karmic backlash from that hit? Since then, the Bruins have out-scored the Canucks 12 to 1 and have gone from an 0-2 deficit in the series to tying it at two games apiece.

Congrats on that, Aaron! Well played, sir!

Next, Bryce Harper. If you haven't seen what he Washington Nationals prospect did, allow me to replay it for you:

Now, initial reports focused on the kiss he blew the pitcher. And while that's certainly immature and lacking in class, what really bothered me was the way he posed after hitting the home run.

Miss it? Go back and watch again. The kid kills the pitch, watches it for a second, then starts walking down the baseline until he's about halfway to first, when he breaks into the slowest home run trot in the history of the bus leagues.

Want to know what generated the kiss? My bet is that the pitcher was barking at him for showing him up, and Bryce's best comeback was blowing him a smooch.

You stay classy, Bryce!

I got into a heated debate with some colleagues about this incident.

“But you don't know what the pitcher did” said one.

To me, it doesn't matter. Sure, Harper was hit by a pitch the day before. I bet he felt all kinds of exaltation at avenging that with a home run. So what! Put your head down, run around the bases and act like a professional. You earn nothing but scorn and damage to your reputation by showing up other players.

Well that, and probably another fastball in the back. Enjoy that one, Bryce!

“Find me a home run hitter who doesn't pose” said another colleague.

Really? That's the standard we're going with? Bonds posed, Manny posed, Big Papi flipped his bat and posed just the other night. So it's okay for a kid in A-ball to do the same thing?

Baseball's been around a lot longer than Bryce Harper. Players with a million times more class have done far more than he ever has. I don't think you ever earn the right to pose and show up opposing players, but for a player in Class A ball to pull that garbage is truly obnoxious.

The bottom line is: no posing, no preening, no slow trot around the bases and the pitcher doesn't say anything and the rest of the nonsense doesn't happen. That's the lesson that needs to be learned here.

Yes, Harper's an 18-year-old kid. No, I don't expect someone to have achieved their full emotional maturity at that age. But for a kid with his talent, who's played baseball his whole life, and is as familiar with the unwritten rules and etiquette as anyone his age could be, he's more than deserving of criticism when he pulls crap like this.

“For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

Whew... okay. Rant... fin.

I feel much better now.

Hopefully I wasn't too over the top there. These sort of things drive me half-goofy.

[Insert “bet that's not a long trip” joke here.]

That's going to do it for today. I'm going to do my best to have the second half of my 2011 All-Star Ballot column done for you by Monday... or at least before the rosters are announced!

Until next time, thanks for reading!

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