October 6, 2011

Fischler Report: A whole new take on fighting words

By Stan Fischler

Wayne Simmonds of the Flyers (top) and the Rangers' Sean Avery tussle during a preseason game last month. (photo: Getty) In the heat of the battle, players in any sport are always going to say awful things to each other that no coach, commissioner or players association will ever be able to stop. 

Whenever there are cheap shots, face washes and fisticuffs, angry words will always be exchanged; it’s been that way forever and will certainly stay that way.

The difference now is that what’s being said on the ice between players is being revealed to the public. The unwritten rule: “What’s said on the ice, stays on the ice” is falling by the wayside.

“Players have to know, especially now that what they say is increasingly ‘out there,’ what lines can’t be crossed, because swearing and taunting have been a part of professional sport forever,” says Steve Buffery of the QMI Agency.

A couple of pre-season incidents surrounding Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds – one involving Sean Avery as the slur target -- has prompted an outpouring of critical comment form various sources.

One of them -- Tom Gulitti's column on NorthJersey.com – suggests that "players be responsible for what they say -- regardless of the target."

The Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons takes a more realistic look.

"For as long as there has been sport played at the highest level, there has been varying degrees of trash talk,” says Simmons. “Had those kinds of expressions been heard in open society, away from the games, it would offend most right-thinking people.

“But what’s happening now, with more media and more microphones, with analysts between benches of pro games, words are being heard, names are being called, and the discussion of what can and cannot be said has become real.

“But what needs to be understood, and seems lost in translation, is that the field of play in almost any sport, should not be confused with the rules of society. You cannot, walking down the street, plow your neighbor into a wall.

“In hockey, it’s called a body check. You cannot sack the paper boy, delivering late on your driveway. In football, that is part of the game. It is the same with words.

“What it spoken on the field has no relevance to real life and historically no real meaning, either. Confusing one with the other is unhealthy and basically unnecessary.”

By contrast, Gulitti takes a more conservative view. "The word that Simmonds used is one that probably has been uttered hundreds of times during on-ice exchanges – and in trash talking in locker rooms, classrooms and playgrounds – over the years. Society has progressed to the point now, though, that this word is no longer acceptable.

“It is offensive, and it’s time for it to disappear.”

Players have to understand what insults are inappropriate, points out Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson (Riverside, R.I.).

“Whatever Simmonds allegedly said (to Avery) is a common word that’s thrown out there and it really, for a hockey player, has nothing to do with the other’s player’s sexuality,” said Wilson. “It’s just a word that gets thrown around.

“I don’t condone our players yelling and screaming and saying really sick and low stuff because it’s pretty easy now to find dirt on anybody,” added Wilson. “All you have to do is go on the Internet and you can see some kind of issue some guy’s going through. And that’s below the belt as far as I’m concerned.”

Observations

* Sidney Crosby being put on injured reserve is no surprise. It simply means that his return remains on a wait-and-see basis.

What is so commendable is The Kid’s availability to the media; not to mention his grace and patience while answering the inevitable questions. Anyone who doubts Crosby’s right to be the NHL’s poster boy should check out one of his scrums with the press. Sid is a role model for all his colleagues and then some.

Gossip

* Kansas City's renewed push for NHL membership -- assuming an opening eventually develops -- is being boosted on several fronts: 1. The recent exhibition game (Pittsburgh vs. Los Angeles) sold out 17,779 at the Sprint Center; 2. Meanwhile, big-time college hockey will be featured in KC next weekend, with a tournament involving Notre Dame, Nebraska-Omaha, Army and Maine.

* Minus Mark Recchi, the Bruins still must fill that empty, veteran's spot and the Coyotes' Ray Whitney could be the man. At age 39, Whitney is a mere stripling compared to Recchi, who won the Cup at 43. Phoenix could do without Ray's $3 million tab and get someone cheaper and younger in return.

* It's too soon to tell but the Islanders may boast not one but two feel-good stories if Jay Pandolfo(Burlington, Mass.) gains a varsity spot. Steve Staios showed GM Garth Snow (Wrentham, Mass.) enough staying power to earn a contract as an insurance defenseman. Looking backward, you'll find that Staois was the Blues’ first choice (27th overall) in the 1991 draft. If the Hamilton, Ont., native can survive 67 games he'll reach the coveted 1,000-game level before season's end.

Stan Fischler can be reached at FischlerReport@gmail.com.