SAN JOSE, March 14, 2014 — Players and fans got quite a scare last week when Dallas Stars forward Rich Peverley collapsed on the Stars bench during a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Stars medical staff acted quickly, and were able to revive Peverley, who had a known heart condition. Once he regained consciousness, Peverley asked how much time was left in the period and when he would be able to return to the game.
The incident, and Peverley’s endearing, if predictable, queries shortly thereafter, have rekindled a sentiment held by many hockey fans that their sport is tougher than any other. The day after the game, the internet was flooded with memes depicting basketball players being carried off the court due to leg cramps, or some other seemingly innocuous ailment, juxtaposed with bloody hockey players continuing to battle. The intent was not to celebrate hockey players’ legendary toughness as much as to denigrate athletes of other sports. This sort of small-mindedness makes all hockey fans look bad, and it needs to stop.
Hockey is defined by a particular type of warrior spirit, one which transcends race, creed, or gender. Players compete while hurt all the time, and they routinely do not make a big deal about it. In last year’s Stanley Cup finals, Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron played with a punctured lung and dislocated shoulder, while Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby endured a broken foot throughout a playoff series a few years ago.
These stories are common, and the press usually only finds out about it after the fact. It is not a flag players wave or pat themselves on the back about, it is simply the way the game is played. When faced with an injury, most hockey players choose the Monty Python, “It’s just a flesh wound,” approach.
Comparing other sports to hockey is ridiculous. While elite athletes of any discipline share characteristics of perseverance, dedication and a ferocious competitive drive, the physical toll on athletes varies depending on the sport. To draw the conclusion that an NBA player is somehow less tough or brave than a hockey player, simply because of how they deal with injuries, which are often very different, is erroneous.
Hockey fans ought to be able to celebrate and marvel at the toughness of their star players without dismissing the sacrifices of athletes in other professions. The injuries suffered, and their effect on the athletes’ ability to perform at an expected level, are often completely different.
What draws many to hockey is the compelling blend of skill, speed, and violence. It is the ultimate team sport, and yet, it also spotlights countless one on one battles in every match. The best players in the world only have the puck on their sticks for a few precious minutes in an average game, thus, they are dependent on their teammates for success.
Puck skills and a scoring touch are not enough to play consistently at the highest level. A player must be able to communicate with their line mates or defensive partner, back check hard, and know their responsibilities in their defensive zone. They also must play through pain, because they can be sure that the player next to them will do the same for the common goal.
There was a time when, if you wanted your sports opinion to be known beyond your circle of friends, you were required to clear a series of moral and linguistic hurdles and become a journalist. Today, thanks to Twitter and the like, any small-minded bigot can instantly share their ignorance with the rest of the world.
The recent flood of ugly tweets, memes, and posts following the Peverley incident illustrate the consequence of current technology’s ability to prop up the illiterate and uninformed. Sentiments dripping with racism, homophobia and general animus, which someone would never dare utter in public, are now spewed onto the internet without recourse or accountability.
Every knuckle-dragging mouth breather is now able to litter cyberspace with whatever hateful gibberish their pea brains can cobble together. It is a sad testament to where we are as a civil society, and how organized sports still caters to the lowest common denominator.
Hockey fans, do not let these few dilettantes speak for you, particularly in regards to boasting about your sport’s players’ perceived superiority over other elite athletes. Rich Peverley is not some hero, crusading against other sports. He is just a hockey player who wanted to get back in the game because he wanted to help his team win.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.