Overreach has often gotten politicians and political parties in trouble. They get elected, imagine they have a mandate to do anything they want, and then just go too far.
It's a lesson that should be heeded by all those connected to professional hockey, be they the players, the fans, the sponsors, or the communities that support the teams.
At issue now is an incident involving the giant (literally and figuratively—he's 6'9") Boston Bruin Zdeno Chara, who slammed Montreal Canadien player Max Pacioretty into the boards last week in what Chara describes as normal, aggressive professional hockey play. Pacioretty ended up in the hospital with a severe concussion and fractured vertebrae, and is out indefinitely. Chara got a game penalty, but no league suspension or fine for the hit. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
A heated discussion ensued about what happened on the ice, and that's sensible. But now, the Montreal police are investigating the incident as a potential assault, which is absurd. (I have this image of a group of Mounties, galloping onto the ice and apprehending the Bruins captain and star player, shouting, "J'accuse!") And Air Canada sent a letter to the league, threatening to withdraw its sponsorship.
It was truly a cringe-inducing hit, even for that element of the hockey fan world that enjoys fighting on the ice (and no, that's not all hockey fans). But this wasn't a fight; it was a particularly brutal check, and perhaps unavoidable when someone Chara's size is involved. He's as tall as a professional basketball player, and weighs 255 pounds; no hit from Chara is going to be easily absorbed. But both Montreal law enforcement and Air Canada are going too far, inserting themselves into an issue that should be resolved within the league. The precedents alone are disturbing. Should any aggressive play be evaluated like a street fight? And what's to stop corporate sponsors from using their financial muscle in other ways—are they going to pull their cash because they didn't like an icing call?
There's a strong argument that Chara's hit was legitimate, resulting in an unfortunate, fluke injury because of how the two players were positioned on the ice during the encounter. It's a tough call to make, even after a close examination of the video of the check. There's also a strong argument to be made that if a hit results in another player being taken off the ice in a stretcher, the player who contributed to the injury should be suspended for a game or fined. And surely, the incident should cause the league to reconsider the line between aggressive play and all-out violence. But that's a matter for the league, and the NHL should not be intimidated by outside pressure from Montreal law enforcement or sponsors.