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Remember Dave Forbes? You know, the Boston hockey player who was tried in a criminal court this summer for assaulting an opponent, the man who touched off the outcry for an end to the "senseless violence" committed in the name of sport.
Though some people may have been so rash as to interpret Forbes' trial as a stern and ominous warning, a National Hockey League spokesman dismissed it as "an unusual aberration that does not escalate any fears we may have of a recurrence." In other words, it was almost unthinkable that a professional hockey player would ever again be hauled before a judge for an act of violence that occurred during the course of a game.
If so, then what exactly was that little set-to in Toronto last week when the Detroit Red Wings' Dan Maloney felled the Maple Leafs' Brian Glennie with a flying punch from the side and then bounced his head on the ice two times for good measure? A usual aberration?
Ontario Attorney General Roy McMurtry did not think so. He has charged Maloney with "assault causing bodily harm" and ordered the left wing to appear in a Toronto criminal court on Dec. 4. It should be an interesting hearing. Maloney, whose attack put Glennie in the hospital overnight with a mild concussion, holds that he was merely administering just retribution for the upending body check that Glennie had put on Red Wing Center Bryan Hextall moments earlier. In Maloney's judgment—but evidently not the referee's, as no penalty was indicated—the check was "too hard."
The fact that Maloney was assessed a five-minute major penalty and a $50 fine seemed censure enough to Red Wings Coach Doug Barkley. "Why is McMurtry picking on hockey?" he protested. "The NHL is the best-run league of any major sport. The league has done an excellent job running itself." Ever the good sport, Maloney says that he was just trying to help Glennie get up.
Given the benefit of the doubt, that the movers and shakers of hockey had somehow forgotten the warning of the Dave Forbes trial, there is no way they could have ignored the alarm bells that have been sounded in recent weeks. Just six games into the new season Bobby Hull, the Winnipeg Jets' left wing, sat out a game as a protest against the "brutality" and malicious attacks on his teammates. "If something isn't done soon," declared Hull, the World Hockey Association's alltime leading goal scorer, "it will ruin the game for all of us. I've never seen so much vicious stuff going on."
Neither had Attorney General McMurtry. Only one week before the Maloney incident he ordered provincial attorneys and police to rigorously enforce the law against "clear breaches of the criminal code" on the ice. A follow-up to a scathing indictment of pro hockey in an investigative report ordered by the Ontario legislature, the crackdown was partly intended to cross-check the acts of violence that McMurtry says "are obviously a very bad example for young kids who ape the professionals."
The reaction of Harold Ballard, president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is typical of how gravely concerned the NHL was about the latest flurry of public outrage. Of McMurtry's announced plan to have law-enforcement officers patrol games in Maple Leaf Gardens (two police sergeants, acting as McMurtry's observers, did in fact witness and file a report on the Maloney incident), Ballard had said, "If they pay for a ticket when they come in I don't care how many people they bring."
At a time when hockey is in dire need of some good oldfangled straight talk, Ballard stands ready to provide it. In fact, it is ironic that shortly before one of his own players was cut down last week, he more than any other NHL overseer strove to candidly and fearlessly tell it like it will be this season. In announcing last month that he was placing seven of his players on the trading block, Ballard cut right through to the core of things. "We've got to mold a lineup that can take on a bunch of goons," he said. "I'm looking for guys you toss raw meat to and they will go wild."
To say that his remarks are tasteless, an insult to the players, the fans and the game, is to underestimate the disregard many guardians of professional sports have for the public conscience. And to suggest that Ballard's words are ill-timed is to ignore the hard truth that it is difficult to find a time when hockey has not been under attack for fostering brutality, and more difficult to find any substantial moves on the league's part to stop it.