I have watched the Cormier video multiple times, pausing and going back just before Tam starts to go into convulsions. I have already seen twice in my life a player go into seizures before me on the ice, one an epileptic team mate, the other the result of a fight gone wrong and both never things I wish to witness again, either on tv or otherwise.
Cormier’s hit is not in question here. It was dirty. He lead with his elbow at a high speed and Tam suffered the consequences. Further, Cormier is not a first time offender, instead a young player with an already disgusting reputation for this kind of play.
So where do we go from here?
Cormier needs to be suspended. Plain and simple. If you’re suspending based on the outcome, like the OHL has been (see Lambias), suspend him for a season. If anything, Cormier is probably more deserving of such a suspension, with the likelihood of injury occurring every time a hit is delivered in that manner being substantially higher than that of Lambias, which in my opinion the resulting injury was more from freak circumstances (the loss of the helmet in the fall, so forth).
However, now, the Quebec Provincial Police are reporting that they are investigating Cormier and the incident in the light of possible laying of charges.
This is where the problem I have arises. I, like a lot of people, have a real issue with the involvement of the police when it comes to punishing unacceptable behaviour or violence in sport.
In the United States, there has been one criminal case against a professional hockey player (there has been four criminal indictments of hockey players, but only one involved an NHL player, David Forbes) and Canada has seen several. The more famous of these include Regina v Ciccarelli (Dino was found guilty of assault, fined $1000 and ordered to serve a day in jail) and Regina v McSorley (the trial mainly centered around whether an incident in a professional hockey game could constitute assault with a weapon).
Society’s criminal sentencing system is underpinned by the concepts of retribution and deterrence. We wish to punish what was done, to restore society to a state prior to the act and in turn prevent its further behaviour. A court can endeavour to do this but when (in accordance with precedent and law) the sentence may be little more than a handful of hours community service, a fine or a suspended sentence, is it going to be as effective as a substantial suspension or even a season long ban to enforce the message to not only the concerned player but the hockey community as a whole? There seems to be no worse punishment for a hockey player than to take away his right to play the game he loves.
Sporting leagues strive to maintain control over the punishment and regulation of its athletes and their actions. They argue, and I agree, that there is no need for outside judicial or legislative involvement in the majority of incidents (if you decapitated someone I’d be inclined to hand someone over to the police however). However, if the League, any league, wishes to remove these incidents from the game of hockey on its own terms, it is swift and harsh punishment that must be dealt out or more and more incidents will end up before the courts.
If Cormier does find himself in a court room in the future, it will not be just him that is on trial, but the sport of hockey and its ability to handle its own problems that will be brought into question.
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