Penalty to McMurtry...two minutes for grandstanding

Penalty to McMurtry...two minutes for grandstanding

John Robertson November 17 1975
Penalty to McMurtry...two minutes for grandstanding

Penalty to McMurtry...two minutes for grandstanding

John Robertson November 17 1975

Penalty to McMurtry...two minutes for grandstanding

John Robertson

Professional sports leagues thrive on balance. On any given day, almost any team can beat any other. But no such parity exists in the Legislative House League of Ontario where the once invincible Tories, led by Coach Bill Davis, have suddenly discovered their political future dangling by one frayed, Big Blue thread. One loss this season and Bashful Bill could well be out.

Gnawing gleefully away at the thread are the Liberals and New Democrats, who know that even a slight break could trigger—you’ll pardon the expression—a snap election. To make matters worse. Davis is juggling the remnants of a cabinet so splintered with resignations and defeats that he’s had to promote a new boy up from the minors—Attorney-General Roy McMurtry—to gloss over the crumbling woodwork with a desperation coating of crazy glue, which he hopes will faintly resemble motherhood. Next to turning against the Conservatives, the most popular exercise in Ontario these days is dredging up scandals—in hockey as well as harbors. And what better way to reaffirm the party’s ties to motherhood than to rise out of the murky depths of Hamilton Harbor and sling some of that mud at the National Hockey League. I mean, who is for violence—in anything, let alone hockey?

So McMurtry, aiming for the Lady Byng Trophy as the House League’s most gentlemanly player, is suddenly concerned that “millions of television viewers are exposed to acts on the ice which may be in contravention of the Criminal Code.” McMurtry might more appropriately have confined his concern to amateur hockey, where parental indifference, inconsistent officiating and unqualified coaching have indeed led to excessive violence. That would have been good sense, but not good politics. To grab the political headlines, you have to attack the major leagues.

If the promising Tory rookie wants to dredge up the criminal code and apply it literally to what goes on in pro sports, the jails will soon be jammed with sweatstained athletes—facing charges that have little to do with violence. Several Montreal Alouettes, for example, could have justifiably been arrested for loitering during their recent 46-6 loss to Ottawa. The great Argo, Russ Jackson, who is three divine persons in one—father, coach and Electrohome salesman—could be charged with conspiring with paid músclemen to commit aggravated assault. The entire New York Ranger hockey club—such as it is— could be charged with accepting money under fraudulent circumstances.

Strict application of the Criminal Code to hockey would mean that throwing fists at one another would be brawling in a public place—even if most hockey fights are actually old-fashioned waltzes in which you seize your partner and swing him allemande left. The "late Don Messer did this for 10 years on TV with impunity, and nobody fiddled with him. But the most shocking offense may turn out to be holding. The spectre of one man wrapping his arms around another in public offends all sensibilities, and should lead at least to a charge of indecent assault. If performed against the boards, I wouldn’t rule out buggery.

I talked with NHL president Clarence Campbell about the McMurtry manoeuvre, and he said: “There is less violence in hockey today than there ever has been before. Premier Davis also has a commission to examine violence on television and I can’t wait to hear how hockey stacks up against programs that depict murder, rape and assault. Until then McMurtry’s comments seem to be so much political noise.”

Amen. Face it: hockey and football are sports that require physical contact. If a kid is a psycho, that trait will have been developed long before he steps onto a hockey rink. In amateur hockey, the onus is on the parents to see that their children behave on ice. If they can’t discipline a boy in the 22 hours he isn’t on skates, what chance does a rule book have? Frankly, I think hockey does a better job of policing its own than government. As Premier Davis does his tightrope act on that Big Blue thread, he might consider that governments, like motherhood, can abort when the credibility of Daddy’s intentions are suspect.