Mark Lombardi’s latest article for The New York Times provides an illuminating look at the amateur sport known as “hockey.”
The writer, who provides a primer on the sport from amateur play through professional leagues, captures just about every facet of this sports passion with exquisite insight, taste and balance of language. He mentions the skills required of their players, the rule book, their role in the cultural fabric of American life, even even golf and winter sports.
But one observation sticks out, at least for hockey fans in New York City. It turns out that hockey teams also go for the kind of picturesque snow scenes that the NHL loves to trumpet as a goal for viewership.
Mr. Lombardi knows how to understand these scenes, and how appealing they can be to an audience: “How many folks who engage in leisure pursuits with a meaning beyond the entertainment value actually partake in them?” he asks, reflecting a broad intelligence. “It seems that pro sports organizations have the same question. So what does it mean to these picturesque, snow-covered games — if not simply to deliver fun and intense competition with the trappings of the whole country in the background?”
The National Hockey League is not unlike others who, for various reasons, may not wish to be studied or judged on the basis of off-field conduct. Like what I read about — you can see it in the text here, because I haven’t double-checked — John Kerry’s breakdancing. Can a picture be worth a thousand words?
Not necessarily. Perhaps that’s why I feel the need to say: There’s a difference between fun and violent behavior, in sports or elsewhere.
According to the study by Prof. Manfred Schafer of McGill University, a relative of the Black Panthers, roughly 1.5 million people die as a result of hockey violence every year in Canada. The number here is higher — but then, the NHL had 1.9 million violent incidents last season. No family, should they choose to have one, should ever have to tell someone, especially a young child, about the many ways in which hockey could hurt them. And in the United States, experts say, more than 1 million people die as a result of violence — though the numbers are in dispute. But if you really want to gauge this game’s violence, you should have a look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site, where you can actually access the data on “non-intentional traumatic brain injury,” and “motor vehicle accidents.”
And it would be easy to organize a sheet of paper and put these figures on the map. But the problem is, there’s no GPS for violence and hockey. Just a book about Mark Lombardi.
Kurt Streeter is a senior editor for The New York Times.