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On the Bertuzzi incident

Yesterday I was struggling to differentiate Bertuzzi's assault on Moore from the everyday violence that takes place in the NFL. Bertuzzi will probably find himself in a courtroom soon. Why not a head-hunting NFL safety?

The key difference is that intent to injure in the Bertuzzi incident can be demonstrated. This can't be proven for a safety's blindside hit on a wide receiver, hence there is no legal case. So in football, it's up to the league to handle the problem. The NFL has taken significant steps in recent years to reduce the likelihood of serious injury to its players. Serious fines (see Darren Woodson) and suspensions are issued for what were once viewed as clean hits. This policy has generated controversy, but in my view it hasn't "wussified" the game one iota. If the policy has affected behavior, and it surely has, it's made the game safer. Good move by the NFL.

Football is inherently violent, but the NFL has less of an outlaw problem than the NHL. In the Toronto Star, Damien Cox argues that the NHL's problem stems from a sick culture:

The mad cycle of NHL violence goes round `n' round largely because the industry is so devoid of true leaders willing to separate themselves from the pack mentality that defines the politically correct line on so many issues......It's all part of a sick, age-old hockey mentality. A running back in football can cut through a hole and get drilled by a middle linebacker, and then shake off the blow and retreat to his huddle.

He doesn't demand that a player on his own team cross to the other huddle and challenge that linebacker to a fight.

In hockey, however, every clean hit is an insult to be avenged.

Every issue, to those who believe in this culture, is best resolved with fists.

Cultures are tough things to change. If I were commissioner Bettman, I'd pick up the phone and call the NFL. There might be lessons to be learned there.

Update: ESPN's report on the suspension indicates that the NHL is going about this the right way. 1) The suspension is lengthy - for the rest of the season & playoffs. 2) Bettman's decision on Bertuzzi's status for next season will be evaluated at a future date. This keeps the issue in the minds of players during the offseason, ensuring that it won't be quickly forgotten. 3) The organization was fined $250,000, sending a signal that the issue goes beyond a single individual. 4) Both teams had been warned earlier about retaliation. The NHL was watching, didn't like what it saw, and acted swiftly. But there is more work to be done. Thanks to the Sports Law Blog for the pointer.