Let’s hope official Washington hears the scorn being heaped on their hometown Capitals for forward Tom Wilson’s beatdown of two New York Rangers players. I have no skate to grind against the Caps, but this sad episode has the potential to teach us about cries of foul play across the political spectrum.
The lesson is as clear as freshly Zamboni’d ice: When people feel they’re denied justice, they’ll take the law into their own hands, and the whole culture suffers. That you or I might not see a particular play or court ruling as dirty doesn’t matter. There are always troublemakers eager to sing Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song; it’s them we must squelch.
The Wilson incident occurred on May 3, when he punched Rangers’ winger Pavel Buchnevich in the back of the skull while he lay defenseless. Next, he dragged Artemi “The Breadman” Panarin down by the hair and slammed his face into the ice. It was a berserker rage worthy of Wolverine — the X-Man inspired, incidentally, by Dr. Hook, a goon from the 1977 Paul Newman classic “Slap Shot.”
After serving two minor penalties and a 10-minute misconduct, Mr. Wilson finished the game, but the Breadman’s season was toast. The NHL’s legal system, the Department of Player Safety, imposed a $5,000 fine, which the Rangers tore into as “dereliction of duty,” declaring the top authority, George Parros, “unfit.”
For this insurrection, the league fined the Blueshirts $250,000.
Having exhausted all options within the system, New York decided on revenge. In a rematch with the Caps 48 hours later, several players dropped the gloves at the opening faceoff, and the 20-minute first period featured 100 minutes in penalties. An on-ice riot.
Traditionally, hockey policed cheap shots with a gentleman’s agreement, where “enforcers” exacted a price for transgressions. It’s that kind of self-regulated, honorable fisticuffs that first drew legendary sportscaster Mike “Doc” Emrick to the Fort Wayne Komets. In his memoir, “Off Mike: How a Kid from Basketball-Crazy Indiana Became America’s NHL Voice,” Doc wrote of the contradiction that laymen saw in his love of the game.
“I’m sure a few have wondered,” he wrote, “whether the sport’s emphasis on brawling might have run contrary to my Christian values.” When I asked him to elaborate, his answer boiled down to fair play. And he noted that as science learned more about head injuries, everyone lost their taste for fighting.
Embracing this new world where refs, not fists kept everyone honest, the Rangers unilaterally disarmed; therefore, they had no Dr. Hooks to protect their stars. (It was this role that Mr. Wilson fulfilled, taking exception to the Rangers crashing his goalie.)
In civilized society, there are mechanisms to address wrongs without throwing punches but that serve the same purpose: Riling up your side and righting wrongs. But when those tools are removed — say, by Big Tech swallowing the whistle on one side’s misdeeds — the result is anarchy. Everyone arms up, and we lose law and order as surely as we lost sweet Jerry Orbach.
Maybe hockey, with a fanbase that’s 61% White and only 14% Black and a capital that’s overwhelmingly Democratic can use Wilsongate as a chance to walk a mile in the skates of our fellow Americans. Those wearing striped shirts on the ice or suits, judicial robes and police uniforms off, can see the value in rooting out even the appearance of unfairness.
They can start by following the rules like President Ulysses S. Grant, who was caught speeding at the corner of 13th and M Streets in 1872. Officer William West, a Black man, felt bad about arresting the general who’d crushed the Confederacy, but he enforced the law. And as historian John Marszalek told NPR, “Grant, himself said, I know I was speeding. You should arrest me.” Off to the police station he went.
Theodore Roosevelt served on the other side of the badge in the Dakota Badlands. As a deputy sheriff in 1886, he spent 36 cold, sleeplessness, hungry hours transporting fugitives to trial. A settler, TR wrote, didn’t understand “why I took so much bother with the thieves instead of hanging them offhand.” But summary execution ran contrary to the lawman’s duty.
Washington’s team once honored America by wearing the U.S. Capitol on their sweaters, as the Rangers did by sewing Lady Liberty onto theirs. If justice is equally enforced regardless of team, the ideals those symbols represent will thrive and we’ll move towards a more perfect union. If not, there will be more blood on the ice and in the streets — and the dirty players will rule.
• Dean Karayanis is content producer for RushLimbaugh.com and host of “History Author Show” on iHeartRadio.
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