Sports: Hockey, Is It

Before I question the validity of NHL hockey, let me say that I think that hockey is a great game. The skating skill and overall athleticism of hockey players, is something to behold. Now that I have that out of the way, the product that the NHL puts out there, for viewer consumption, I do not consider it a sport. What sets NHL hockey apart from other professional leagues, is the fighting and the referees. No other league allows fighting. The enforcing of the rules in hockey is bizarre, to say the least. I would assume this is all overseen by the league, but it makes the referees seem to be the most incompetent in all of sports. This is not a sports league that is bubbling over in popularity. They are at the bottom of the barrel, when it comes to fan viewership. Here is looking at the numbers from 2019. In each of the league’s major event, the NHL is bringing up the rear, and I mean they are way back. Around 6 to 9 million people watched the Stanley Cup Final in 2019. Compare this to 14 to 15 million in baseball and basketball for their championship series and a whopping 42 million for the AFC and NFC championship games. The U. S. Open in golf drew between 7 and 10 million in 2019, when Gary Woodland won, not exactly a household name. Despite the fact that hockey is not very popular, on a national level, none of the above problems seem be to even close to going away. Let’s take a look at each one and see if hockey can become a sport again.

The first issue, is that fighting, is not really seen as a problem in hockey. Hockey advocates feel that fighting increases fan interest and viewership. Yeah, I would hate to see all those 6 million fans, stop watching. They also say, that hockey just wouldn’t be the same without fighting. That statement is true. It wouldn’t seem so ridiculous, disgusting and staged. Fighting in hockey reminds me of fighting in studio wrestling, a very well choreographed performance. Stopping fighting is the easiest thing to do. In the other major sports fighting is severely punished with fines, and suspensions. Fighting is not the every day process in other sports as it is in NHL hockey. If they would stop fighting they may lose some fans but the gains would far outweigh the losses. Secondly, compared to other sports, they don’t have that many fans to lose. Then, there is the officiating. There are so many “unwritten rules” that the written rules often get overlook. There are studies that have been done, that predict on which team the next penalty will be call. The factors, are which team is the home team, the accumulated penalty differential, the time of the game, and the relative strengths of the teams. Whatever happened to a penalty is a penalty. There is also this unwritten rule that a penalty will not be called during the last 5 minutes of the game, unless it is flagrant. Thank God other sports did not adopt this policy, although the New Orleans Saints may beg to differ. I do not think the NHL really cares, but here are some things that could be done, or maybe a new league should form like they did 120 years ago.

In the 1890’s, the National League played baseball, much the same way the NHL plays hockey, today. They broke rules, kept players from running the bases, and fights broke out in almost every game. The fans had had enough, and it was a prime opportunity for a new league to be born. The American League began as a major league in 1901. They cracked down on all the rule violations, and penalized players harshly for fighting. Don’t look now but the American League is still around. This is a perfect time for a new Hockey League to form, that will ban fighting, and call the games, as they see them. This new league should have one major rule change. No more offsides. This would really open the game up, and create a new and exciting brand of hockey. You know the NHL is never going to ban fighting, because of the archaic idea, that this is what the fans want and expect. What fans? As I wrote at the start of the blog, hockey is great game, with some of the greatest athletes in world playing the sport. The game is too beautiful to be made so ugly, by fighting. However this barbaric tradition started, it needs to stop now, and let the sport be played as it was designed.

Golf: The Dilemma

The dilemma in golf is very simple. We are trying to hit a target with a ball, without looking at the target. We are using a method of hitting this target, that seems to be very complicated, especially for longer or full shots, which in turn, makes hitting the target, very difficult. This makes golf totally unique. There are sports, that have some similarities with golf, which I am going to discuss, but none of them have all the elements, that golf requires to achieve the desired goal. This process, of trying to hit the target, in golf has a tendency to make the mind go in all kinds of directions. This causes both mental and physical confusion. The biggest thing golf does, is that it makes the participant try to do things, that they are not capable of doing. Nobody would ever drive the Indy 500, if they have never driven in a car race before. This might sound like an exaggeration but golfers try shots that only the best golfers in the world should attempt. They do this, probably multiple times a round. Before we get to what we might be able to do about this, let us look at sports, that come close to the golf dilemma.

The first thing that comes to mind, is the tennis serve. The tennis player needs to hit the ball to a particular part of the tennis court. In the process, he winds up and has a backswing and a downswing and looks at the ball he is about to hit to a particular target. The big difference of course, is his target does not change, and is relatively close. The environment does not have a major impact on the process. I suppose wind could be a factor, but usually tennis is played in a rather enclosed arena. So repeating the exact same motion every single time, should result in the desired result. I know the expert puts different types of spin on the ball, but the motion of the body is basically the same. This is not true in golf. The body has to go through some subtle changes, as you progress through the clubs. Another sport that seems to have a lot of similarities to golf is baseball. From pitching to batting, comparisons are made to golf. Pitching, in particular, with the wind up being compared to a backswing and downswing scenario. The big difference, the pitcher is very capable of looking at the target while he is doing his motion. There have been some great pitchers over the years, while going through the pitching motion, will take their eyes off the target. Just before they release the ball, they will pick up the target with their eyes. The baseball swing is often compared with the golf swing. The player is intent on keeping his eye and head on the ball, as soon as it leaves the pitchers hand. Of course, the batter does not have to chase his foul ball, and does not have to control the ball any where near what a golfer has to do. Hockey players are looking at the net until they are just ready to shoot and then look quickly at the puck before firing away. There are more examples I could give, but no sport encompasses all the elements of trying to hit the target that golf does. Is there anything that can be done to make this problem easier to deal with.

We will start with the green, and one method that has been done. Players have tried looking at the hole, and not the ball, while making the putting stroke. The most successful player to this was Jorden Spieth. He seemed to do this, only on short putts, but seemed to make a lot of short putts. It makes you wonder, what made him stop, since now he seems to be having trouble with the short ones. I am surprised, that this has not caught on more, on tour. A method of ball striking, that has never taken off is the early head lift, that was done by Annika Sorenstam and David Duvall. These are two highly successful professional golfers, and each one, made the unique move of lifting their head toward the target, before they made contact with ball. In her book, she writes about this as being a simultaneous lift of the head as she strikes the ball. The pictures in the book of her swing, show this to be trues. When you would see her on TV, in the heat of the tournament, the head would be coming up before she actually struck the ball. She wrote in the book, that was a method to help free up her swing, and have a full release through the ball. I have to wonder though, if this was a way to pick up the target, just like the pitchers do, when they take their eyes off the target during their delivery. She never mentions this but it could have been a subconscious behavior. You wonder if the reverse is true. You certainly can not look at the target and make a golf swing. You know I would try such a thing and it is impossible. However, you could start your swing, while looking at the target, and then let it go back down to the ball as the club shaft was getting to about parallel to the ground. Yes! Another thing to try. I think there are two other things that stand in the way of hitting the target in golf. The first, which I have discussed before, is the swing thought. To put this as simply as possible, how can you be thinking of one thing when you are trying to do something else. You are trying to hit a target, and thinking of making a complete backswing, or whatever about you swing. Let that sink in awhile, and then forget about swing thoughts. The second is playing to a wrong target. How are you supposed to hit something, that you know deep down inside, your either incapable of hitting, or is just too risky to go at. This can range from going for tucked away pins, cutting doglegs, or going over a far distance hazard. This golf dilemma has been around since the game has been invented, and quite frankly, not much as been done, to make things easier, for those of us, who struggle along with this confounding game. Um, looking at the target while you start your swing. I will let you know, maybe.