Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lack of experience should not nullify opinions

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Before you express an opinion about the role of fighting in hockey, you better power up your computer and check your resumé.

Somewhere between your stint in high school and whatever it is you do right now, the words "professional hockey player" must appear on your list of experiences.

Otherwise, you're not qualified to opine about hockey -- at least in the eyes of ex-NHLers who went on to become sportscasters and legions of other apologists for the continuing presence of fighting in hockey.

Whenever a fan, critic or journalist dares to opine that maybe, just maybe, society is moving on from an era when it's OK to watch grown men punch each other in the face with bare fists, the fact you haven't played hockey at an elite level will be used to discredit your position.

"You never played the game," is the mantra most often used by the ex-NHLers who now eke out a living as hockey commentators.

Yes, unless you managed to be one of the few thousand individuals talented enough to play in the NHL or at the minor-league level in North America, your opinion is worth less than the opening bid on an Alex Burmistrov jersey on eBay. So don't even bother, OK?

This idea is nonsensical. Politicians, the most maligned figures in society, wake up every morning and scroll through pages of letters from constituents and media reports they don't appreciate in some way.

Often, they get annoyed. Sometimes, they may complain. But never, ever will you see a politician attempt to diminish a constituent or activist on the sole basis that critic has never managed to pull off the rare achievement of holding elected office. They would be laughed all the way out of their seat.

But professional hockey players, along with those who deify them as demigods, live on a different planet. In their world, only current or former members of the National Hockey League Players' Association are allowed to express an opinion about the NHL, particularly if that opinion pertains to fighting.

On Tuesday, hours after the Montreal Canadiens' George Parros went down in a heap on the Bell Centre ice, Hockey Night In Canada analyst P.J. Stock, who played for four NHL teams, went on the anti-fan offensive with another variation of the "you've never played the game" meme.

"So many people don't understand what fighting is in a hockey game -- retribution, intimidation, deterrence and retaliation. I could go on and on," Stock said during the first intermission of Tuesday's Winnipeg Jets-Edmonton Oilers game. "It's people in the game, players in the game, that understand its value."

The message is clear: Broadcasters who've never played hockey shouldn't opine about fighting. Fans shouldn't opine about fighting. Only people with the talent and experience to play at an elite level could possibly comprehend the crucial, strategic role fighting plays in hockey.

And if you don't appreciate fighting, well, then you don't appreciate hockey. So shut up and keep buying NHL tickets, cable packages, jerseys and video games and do not dare to voice your uninformed and unappreciative opinions.

This is the very definition of a reactionary sentiment, made in the face of inevitable, unstoppable change. At some point, inherently risk-averse insurance companies are going to end fighting in hockey. If that doesn't happen, accountants for NHL teams who must pay those insurance companies are going to end fighting in hockey. And if that doesn't happen, adults who grew up loving hockey are going to end fighting in the game because -- duh -- they care about their children and don't particularly want to promote sociopathic behaviour.

As one of my co-workers put it Tuesday: "My four-year-old son had his first skating lesson last weekend. How long should I wait to teach him to punch his peers in the face repeatedly?"

But hey, that copy editor doesn't know anything. He didn't play the game.

You didn't have to be a Catholic priest in the 1990s to hold the opinion the church's ban on contraception was a stupid way to stop the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. You didn't have to be a plantation owner in the 19th century to realize it was more ethical to pay labourers than it was to continually purchase slaves.

You don't have to be a member of any profession to make a basic judgment about whether something that profession does is right or wrong. Sometimes, being a member of that profession is actually a hindrance.

If you ask me, fighting in professional hockey is brutal and anachronistic. But don't listen to me -- I never played the game.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 3, 2013 A2

History

Updated on Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 7:24 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds video

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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