Monday, 9 December 2013

The Frog And The Scorpion

I spent most of my weekend talking with friends and colleagues about the dangerous and questionable plays made by players in the hockey world over the last couple of days, and there seems to be a consensus that players simply can't help themselves. There's a chance for a SportsCenter moment, and the player ultimately opts to take advantage of that moment by throwing a huge hit despite not considering the consequences of that hit. While I would never ask that a player not play the tough and determined, the last couple of days have been a series of bad decisions from players not normally included in these types of discussions. As one of my good friends pointed out, the NHL is facing a "frog and scorpion situation".

Dion Phaneuf will most likely have a telephone meeting with Mr. Shanahan and his department this week after his dangerous hit on Boston's Kevan Miller last night. There is absolutely no way that Phaneuf couldn't have known he would be in trouble after this hit as Miller's numbers were facing Phaneuf for more than a second or two. Here's the video of the hit that has Phaneuf in hot water.
Hit from behind? Leading with the elbow? Contact with the head? Check off all three for the suspension-worthy hat trick. With all the chatter about dirty plays and lack of respect amongst players after the Erne-Drouin incident followed by the Bruins-Penguins trying to kill each other with dirty plays, Phaneuf's actions last night leave me dumbfounded because it's hard to believe he's that stupid.

I can't fathom the thought process that is running through the head of Phaneuf when all he can see are numbers on the back of Miller's uniform. It seems the temptation to throw the big hit is too great for some to handle, and the results, while not catastrophic yet, are heading towards the inevitable conclusion that a player's career will end off one of these idiotic plays. As I watched that play develop above, the only thing I could think about was the frog and scorpion analogy.

If you aren't familiar with the fable about the frog and the scorpion, here it is.
While searching for food, a scorpion encountered a stream which he could not cross. He walked up and down the stream bank looking for a bridge or a safer way to cross the stream but found none. The scorpion sat pondering his situation when he noticed a frog sitting on a lily pad near the bank of the stream. The scorpion said to the frog, "Kind sir, could you be so kind as to let me get on your back to ferry me to the other side of this stream?"

"How do I know you won't sting me?" asked the frog.

The scorpion responded, "Because if I do, I will die too, as I can't swim."

The frog replied, "How do I know you won’t sting me once we reach the other side?"

"Kind sir, I would be so grateful for your assistance that I wouldn't dream of such a dastardly deed," responded the scorpion.

The frog was satisfied and allowed the scorpion to crawl up onto his back and they set out into the water. The frog was swimming strongly across the stream when the scorpion suddenly stung the frog. Knowing they were both going to drown from the poisonous sting of the scorpion, the frog had just enough time to ask, "Why did you sting me? Now we're both going to die."

The scorpion replied, "Because it's my nature...".
Seems almost eerie, doesn't it? The moral of the fable is that the natural behavior of the scorpion is inevitable regardless of how kindly he is treated and of the resulting consequences of his actions. Seems fitting in these examinations of questionable plays over the weekend, no?

If you ask me, this is the heart of the very problem with players not respecting their opponents. They have been groomed and taught that a big hit is better than, say, pinning your opponent against the boards. This is a systemic issue that has resulted in players paying for the system's faults. While the players will be asked to watch themselves going forward and to possibly change their ways, it has become their natural behavior while on the ice to throw the big hit rather than the smart hit. And the system has basically told them not to worry about the consequences of their actions. In other words, it's better to throw a dirty hit and ask for forgiveness than it is to play smart.

Therefore, it is up to us to change the system so that we teach the kids coming up through junior hockey and NCAA hockey that these types of hits, no matter how awesome they sound when the boards rattle and no matter how much the crowd roars in approval, are illegal, dangerous, and potentially career- and life-threatening.

We wouldn't ask hockey players to drive a car without seatbelts, would we? Yet we allow them to crush their opponents into the boards with the same speed and impact one would take in an automobile accident. The key is that players wearing seatbelts have a much higher chance of living in a dangerous accident than if they weren't wearing seatbelts. The statistics prove this. And in hockey, players have a much better chance of coming out of a hit without injury if he can prepare himself for the hit that's coming.

Who would have thought that Aesop held the key in this debate? The frog and the scorpion fable takes on a much different meaning for me now that I'd watched the analogy play out on the ice.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Slam said...

Not giving excuses for the hit but...

I would not stand that long facing the boards in my non-contact beer-league hockey never mind the NHL.

The hitting from behind rule has changed the players mindset. Since that hit is now illegal, they are not ready for it thus making it worse when it does happen.