Manson, Bundy, Dahmer… McSorley?

Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer committed atrocious crimes against human beings. Just the mention of their names causes many to shudder. For their brutal actions they were punished to the fullest extent of the law–a law that states that any human being who willingly harms another will be punished accordingly.

Yet, thanks to a vicious two-handed slash to the head of Vancouver Canucks forward Donald Brashear by Boston Bruins’ defenceman Marty McSorley last February, we find ourselves in a moral dilemma. Many questions arise as a result of McSorley’s act. Is what happens on the ice above the law? Is there an increase in the incidences of violence in sport? If so, does sport need the law to control its players?

The facts of the case are not in dispute here. Marty McSorley jumped on to the ice with 20 seconds to go in a game his team was losing badly. He claims he was looking to atone for not only his earlier beating by his foe, but to get even with Brashear for taking liberties with his other teammates and flexing his muscles in front of the Canucks’ bench.

In a later television interview McSorley stated, "I [was] running out of time and I’m trying to confront him, and I have to be careful what I say here because I am going to end up in court of law, but I am trying to get him to turn and fight me and force a confrontation. It is unfortunate that I felt I had to force a confrontation, but I did."

We have all seen the cold-blooded attack over and over on television but what we don’t normally see is the coverage of McSorley circling back over his unconscious, bleeding victim yelling, "Get up!" or his words as he is corralled by the linesman, "Let me defend myself."

There is no doubt in most people’s minds that McSorley crossed the line. There is also no doubt that outside the rink a normal citizen would be punished severely for the act regardless of the circumstances. But the National Hockey League’s long history of violence led the game to develop an unwritten "code of honour" among the league’s tough guys–a code McSorley’s lawyer, Bill Smart, argued Brashear broke with his antics. Still, McSorley was punished by the National Hockey League to the tune of 23 games and a fine of over $100,000 in salary. Many would agree this punishment, the stiffest ever given to a player for an on-ice incident, is enough.

In order to decide how to feel about McSorley we must look in the mirror. Does our society cherish and nurture violence? All one has to do is turn on the TV or open a newspaper to discover that we live in a culture of violence. Violence is entertainment. The quintessential example is the World Wrestling Federation. For what seems an eternity it has been one of the most watched programs on television. If they really want to blame somebody they should blame the owner of the WWF, Vince McMahon. Or how about Jerry Springer? I guess he’s not a candidate for the lynch mob anymore. His ratings have nose-dived since he was ordered to remove the reckless-abandon attitude of his guests.

The bottom line is people want to see violence and pay good money for it. Have we really distanced ourselves from the ancient times of the gladiatorial battles of the Roman Empire? Just turn on the TV on Sunday afternoon to one of the channels broadcasting the NFL and you will find we have not.

When the verdict comes down on Friday, Judge William Kitchen will likely find McSorley guilty. But let’s get real here; he will not spend a day in jail (out of the possible 18 months) and he will probably get a small fine and a meager probation. It seems that what is on trial here is not an isolated act of violence by one man, but our violent culture. For that, we are all guilty.

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