There is no shortage of critiques of Brendan Shanahan and his oxymoronic Department of Player Safety. Speaking in his suit from his CNN like ‘war room’, Shanahan offers a very inhuman and sterilized account of some of the most atrocious hits in hockey. He stands, sans emotion, and delivers a verdict as a judge would to a convicted criminal. The only difference is that unlike Law & Order, we neither hear the uproar of the crowd when they are unhappy with the ruling, nor the reaction of the offender to his sentencing (or lack thereof).
The Department of Player Safety is supposed to act like a prison watchtower, keeping order without having to actually impose its will. It is what social theorist Michel Foucault would call a panopticon. It surveils without being seen. It governs from a distance. The only problem with Shanahan’s panopticon is that there is no fear attached to being surveilled. Players almost laugh in the face of his youtube videos. As articulated in this article, The NHL is a Joke! Player safety the biggest oxymoron:
In many ways, Shanahan continues to condone the worst that hockey offers by merely shuffling players about with regular season suspensions and fails miserably by not removing the most reprehensible behaviours and attitudes from players that are more than willing to damage another player’s brain. His suspensions, while more lengthy than his incompetent predecessor’s, and his video explanations, while more clear in their reasonings, do not, and will not, stop the impunity that many NHL players have towards one another.
In other words, what is the incentive for any player to think twice? For anyone who has read Freakonomics or Superfreakonomics, you will remember that the authors rely heavily on personal incentive as indicators for rational behaviour. As an example, if the punishment for drunk driving were random road-blocks that would result in execution on the spot, surely more people would think twice before getting behind the wheel. The Department of Player Safety neither strikes fear in the minds of those who have multiple offenses to their names nor does it make any other player feel like their safety is well protected from the NHL executive offices.
Now, let’s discuss how I interpret the Department of Player Safety to be symbolic of how the Code is either facing major reconstruction or is simply being eroded away. The Code, as has been discussed in numerous other Hockey in Society posts, is fundamentally based on vigilante/frontier justice. It is order out of chaos. Also, much like the number one rule of fight club – never talk about fight club – no one talks outright about the Code or those who have transgressed it (although, if you listen closely to interviews words such as honour, respect and courage all allude to the Code) but they all know it’s there. So for a sport that prides itself on policing itself, is not the Department of Player Safety a big kick in the nads to the Code? The major argument for the Code from every player has been that it keeps the game safe. It keeps goons in line and creates more room for skilled players to do their thing. Well, how safe does the game look today? Where was the room created for Daniel Sedin? Show me the fear in Duncan Keith. As I wrote before about the lack of fear in Milan Lucic on his hit on Ryan Miller – it does not appear that the Code still exists. When the mafia runs your neighbourhood there is an unwritten order to society, and when the mafia moves you have only the police to rely on. This is the situation we face with the NHL today: the mafia no longer has a stranglehold on the town and no one gives a flying jockstrap about the police.
Personally, I feel that the punishment for dangerous hits should match the injury. In other words, Chara should have been out of the lineup as long as Pacioretty. Marchand wouldn’t have played until Salo was healthy. Steckl/Hedman should have sat in the stands as long as Crosby did. And Bertuzzi, well Bertuzzi wouldn’t be playing. Sound a bit harsh? Maybe. But these 3 and 5 game suspensions aren’t working. If your career was dependent upon your actions, I would hope that it would make you think twice about sticking your elbow or knee out. If fear of transgression neither comes from within, nor from an external force then all we have is chaos.
The Code, in all of its masculine fear-mongering, at least prevented certain behaviours. The Department of Player Safety, on the other hand, is purely reactionary. It is detention for highly paid bullies. Perhaps, all the rhetoric about the Code making the game safer was right.