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Hockey's Culture of Revenge

An eye for an eye, until we're all blind.

Jared Wickerham

Revenge can become an obsession. In hockey it's pretty much become the accepted currency. Most won't say that out loud of course because we all understand that, as normal members of society, demanding an eye for an eye is a little outdated.

But for some reason, in the context of a hockey game, everybody demands blood. This past weekend saw one of the more disappointing incidents in recent Bruin memory as Shawn Thornton attacked Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik out of a scrum.

It was a reprehensible act by most everybody's standards, including apparently Thornton's own, and in its wake revealed how obsessed some fans can be with revenge.

I call it revenge because the prevailing thought has always been that fighting and toughness is a deterrent. Players like Thornton are supposed to prevent actions like Orpik's borderline hit on Loui Eriksson, James Neal's equally reprehensible knee to Brad Marchand's head, and the Leafs' Dion Phaneuf's horrible hit on rookie Kevan Miller. And yet Thornton's presence stopped none of these. Take any ugly hit in hockey and notice how fighting's value is always trumpeted after the fact.

The idea that fighting and "The Code" is there to protect players is bunk and always has been. Fans who demand that fighting remain aren't concerned with player's safety; it's just a convenient cover to hide what they're really after, plain, old-fashioned, revenge. If you take one of ours, then you're damn right we're going to take one of yours no matter the costs.

There is no defense for Thornton's actions, none whatsoever, but a quick look at the social media echo chamber reveals some of the worst kind of thoughts. Comments from fans here, and on Matt Kalman's recent column, are heavy on the excuse making while some were full on congratulating Thornton for sending a colleague to the hospital.

Notice how nobody mentions how Thornton's presence was supposed to prevent these things. Nobody cries foul over how his pugilistic specter hanging over the lineup card was supposed to keep the Penguins in line. No, the discussion is, and always has been on how "they" had it coming.

"They" is anybody who draws fans ire, "They" is interchangeable, "They" will get there's at some point just you watch. But if fighting is supposed to do its job "They" shouldn't be a problem.

But it is a problem, and nobody is truly interested in addressing it, just as long we get our pound of flesh in return. There is a culture of revenge in hockey and it is disgusting.

This is the face of revenge from the worst kind of fans. The kind that just won't feel satisfied until an act of violence is performed on their imagined behalf, because they can't do it themselves in polite society.

The mental gymnastics required to make an act like violent revenge tolerable in the context of a game is staggering. If I wanted revenge porn I'd go watch a Tarantino movie, keep it out of my hockey game.

Then we are left to deal with the aftermath until the next incident restarts the cycle, because until we realize what the problem really is it will continue in a horrible endless loop. Just like revenge.