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The now famous “Malice at the Palace” brawl between the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons has brought out a lot of negative publicity, as well it should. The problem? More of it is directed at hockey and the NHL, rather then where it should be, at the players and fans involved in this horrific incident. Rather than admitting there may be a problem, the American media and figures in other sports have used this as an opportunity to attack the game of hockey instead. I assure you that this is not an personal attack at the media or the persons to be mentioned, nor is it an inappropriate stereotype, but rather a statement of factual inaccuracies that somehow have made the game of hockey look bad, when it had absolutely nothing to do with this incident.

In the past 25 years, there have been a trio of incidents involving the NHL and issues with team members and the fans. The first of these three occurred on December 23rd, 1979, in a game between the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Late in the game, Bruins’ D Mike Milbury went into the crowd and beat a fan up with a shoe. As a result, he received a 6 game suspension. Three years later, the second situation happened, as Vancouver coach Harry Neale was suspended for 10 games for fighting with a fan. The third and final incident occurred just 3 years ago in Philadelphia, where Toronto tough guy Tie Domi wound up fighting a fan who wound up in the penalty box with him. How did that happen though? Rowdy fans began heckling Domi and pounding the glass behind him, which eventually collapsed. Domi did not receive a suspension for this, as it was entirely caused by the fan, he instead received an undisclosed fine, believed to be worth $1000 American.

On November 20th, 2004, the day after the NBA brawl, Detroit coach Larry Brown, when asked about this, said that he was surprised and appalled by the actions of the fans and players, but then added he thinks he may have seen something like that in hockey before. FACT: Last time players went into the crowd was the ‘79 incident, something tells me he wasn’t really watching then, or he has an amazing memory. But Larry, when was the last time you saw something like that? Less than 24 hours earlier, when your own team got into it with your own fans, live on NATIONAL television. How again did hockey become the focus of this NBA incident?

Also on the 20th, a rather large brawl broke out in a college football game between South Carolina and Clemson. There, the colour commentator went ahead and said that not only was it appalling, but that type of conduct was conducive to the game of hockey only. FACT: The two teams involved were rivals, and it was a bit of a blowout contest. Furthermore, both coaches admitted after the game that their players had watched the NBA brawl over and over again, and were upset with the scenario as a whole. Pardon me if I’m missing something here, but I just can’t see how hockey at any level played a part in this.

Another highly forgotten fact (willingly or not) was that there was a simliar occurrence in a Major League Baseball game just last year. Kansas City base coach Tom Gamboa was viciously attacked by a pair of Chicago White Sox fans, sending him to hospital. I have not heard one mention of this since the NBA brawl, only hockey, whose problems of this measure occurred several years before any of these. What’s even more infuriating about this is that in the NBA and CFB scenarios mentioned above, no one who spoke about against hockey gave any specifics, only generalized assumptions were provided.

In hockey, there have been a pair of violent incidents in recent memory, the Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore situation, and, albeit lesser publicized, the Alexander Perezhogin/Garrett Stafford stick-swinging mishap. These are the things that the aforementioned media types and people and other sports refer to when taking the focus off the NBA incident, but there is a problem with this: The fans were not involved in the hockey ones!

The reason for doing this appears to be rather obvious, draw away the negative attention from the more popular sports, and place it on hockey instead. These people appear to be refusing to admit that there could indeed be a flaw or two in the sport(s) they have supported over the years, so why not change the subject to an non-popular sport down South, hockey. I’m beginning to wonder if all this unwarranted negative publicity is a significant contributor to this.

When the Bertuzzi and Perezhogin incidents occurred, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and AHL boss Dave Andrews took the high road and kept the focus on the incidents themselves. And, to his credit, which he well deserves, the same can be said for NBA commissioner David Stern, who dealt with the brawl swiftly, and wouldn’t bring other sports into it. In the hockey situations, the media also only talked about hockey, no other incidents from any other sports were brought up to direct the ire away. So why now, does hockey come up in an issue when the sport, at any level, had absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever?

No one can deny that hockey is a violent sport, nor would anyone even attempt to do. Hockey, unlike basketball, is a contact sport. Hence, the two cannot accurately be compared. To make things worse, the comparisons are being made between incidents involving just players (hockey), and the fans and players (basketball). The resemblances just aren’t there, so give it up already. If the media and others want to take shots at hockey, and they have a right to, just get the facts straight first. Otherwise, stay out of it, period.