Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Bobby Holik and the cotton-candy NHL

Opinion is out of the question and it is not coming back
Bobby Holik (#16) and the Rangers' Martin Rucinsky

From a New York Times article regarding Zinédine Zidane and the World Cup, "A Mouth Shouldn’t Run Too Far", 8/1/06 (link via Ben Maller):

Current and former athletes and officials of the four traditional major professional sports leagues in North America said that rarely, if ever, does trash talking in their sports take the form of racial, ethnic or politically charged comments.

Stephen Walkom, the National Hockey League’s director of officiating, said that even in a sport like hockey, which considers physical retribution an integral part of the game, "The players normally know where the line is and don’t cross it."

But what, exactly, is that line?

"I guess each case is different," said Walkom, who spent 15 seasons as an N.H.L. referee. "It’s usually so personal that it can’t be handled. But I can’t say what it is."

The threshold in soccer became more clear yesterday, at least in Europe. The sport’s governing body in Europe, UEFA, announced new rules, mandating that players making racist remarks or gestures could be suspended for up to five matches.

Meanwhile, the threshold in North American sports leagues may fluctuate with broader social norms.

"Today’s age isn’t as racist as maybe when my dad played," said the former major league center fielder Brian McRae, who is black, and whose father, Hal, played 19 seasons, from 1968 to 1987, with the Cincinnati Reds and the Kansas City Royals.

"A lot of the trash talk that I heard that got personal was between the different Latino groups," said McRae, 38, who played 10 seasons, from 1990 to 1999, with the Royals, the Chicago Cubs, the Mets and the Colorado Rockies.

But McRae said he did not think the insults among baseball players were of the same nature as those in an international soccer competition, "because we don’t play different countries," he said.

"Even though the guys in baseball are from all these different countries, the trash talking that goes on is not that deep-rooted in hatred. But if the World Cup in baseball gets going in intensity, it could get that way," he said, referring to the World Baseball Classic, which made its debut this year.

McRae said that when he was playing, much of the trash talk he heard was about sexual orientation.

"There were probably more comments about that than anything else because of just the way it is in our society," he said. "If you knew or suspected a guy was gay, you would try to get under his skin."

Hockey also has an international competition, in which national passions have been known to rise, especially between the Russians and their former Eastern bloc satellites.

Atlanta Thrashers center Bobby Holik, however, said the N.H.L. was not nearly as nationalistic as it once was.

"It used to be a lot worse," said Holik, 35, who was born and reared in the former Czechoslovakia. "When there was a big influx of European players — the first wave that came over in the early 1990’s — we were ‘Commies’ and whatnot. We play in the cotton-candy N.H.L. nowadays. You can’t say anything that’s politically incorrect or you can’t hit anybody too hard."

If someone does consider entering that territory, there is the risk of a significant suspension and hefty fine. That may compel players to keep their trash talking game-related.

Now, the verbal sparring in the major pro sports leagues in North America may be toned down, perhaps even jocular.

"A lot of the trash talking I heard was funny," said Brian Baldinger, who was an offensive lineman for 13 seasons, from 1982 to 1994, in the N.F.L. with the Dallas Cowboys, the Indianapolis Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles.

"Warren Sapp was just an entertainer out there," said Baldinger, 46, now a television analyst for Fox and the NFL Network.

"What happens in the World Cup is I think endemic to the World Cup. In the N.F.L., you can’t do that. You just don’t mention race. It will come back to haunt you. That would be something you’d get ripped apart for in your own locker room. And it would be something that would be completely counterproductive to your career."

Baldinger mentioned the veteran quarterback Kerry Collins as an example. "He made some comments about race early in his career, and it harmed him his entire career," Baldinger said. "He fought the racist tag his entire career."

Most athletes in the four major sports leagues in North America are exposed to diversity training. Before the 1999-2000 season, each of the 30 N.H.L. teams was required to attend a diversity seminar. That may be a reason there are fewer accusations of racial slurs on the ice than in the 1990’s.

But there are still incidents pertaining to race and nationality. In September, Los Angeles Kings forward Sean Avery was reprimanded by the N.H.L. for making derogatory remarks about French-Canadian players. A month later, Edmonton Oilers forward Georges Laraque, who is black, accused Avery of using a racial slur, which Avery denied.

Colin Campbell, the N.H.L. senior vice president in charge of fines and suspensions, said it was difficult to mete out punishment when a player makes an accusation against another player.

"We only do something in a supplemental discipline nature when we hear of any racially derogatory terms that are heard by a neutral referee," Campbell said.

And when a referee is not within earshot, the leagues can only hope their athletes are not crossing the line into unacceptable trash talking. Wherever that line may be.


Anonymous pack attack said...

We play in the cotton-candy N.H.L. nowadays. I think this is a miss quote. I believe comrade Holik actually said, "We play in the cotton-eyed Joe NHL nowadays.'

If it hadn't been for Cotton-Eye Joe
I'd been married long time ago
Where did you come from where did you go
Where did you come from Cotton-Eye Joe

8/1/06, 8:16 PM

Blogger Brushback said...

Knowing "The Wicked-Old Grey-Haired Woman", or whatever that nickname is that people call the NY Times, I'm betting that Holik said "candy-assed" instead, but they changed it.

8/1/06, 8:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In the N.F.L., you can’t do that. You just don’t mention race. It will come back to haunt you. That would be something you’d get ripped apart for in your own locker room."

Who's going to mention race in the NFL????

8/2/06, 9:53 AM


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