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The MLB and NHL Violence Double Standard

The MLB and NHL Violence Double Standard

Shove, punch, kick, its all violence, right? Wrong. The perpetrators of the violent act determine the public response. In the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) and National Football League (“NFL”), leagues dominated by African-Americans, violence has a much more negative stigma attached to it. While in the white dominated Major League Baseball (“MLB”) and National Hockey League (“NHL”), violence is not only excused or ignored but also glorified as violence is woven into the fabric of the game.

When minor league hockey players are trying to grow their brand for increased publicity and recognition by NHL scouts, what do they do? They initiate as many fistfights as possible. No really, an ability to throw a quality punch in hockey is an efficient marketing tool for young players. As a result, fighting has become so synonymous with hockey that fans are disappointed if they leave the arena without having witnessed a fistfight.

For anyone unfamiliar with the game, hockey is played on a flat ice surface with the objection of scoring goals by placing a small disc in a guarded net using an “L” shaped stick as a tool — fighting is NOT necessary to score goals. Nonetheless, fighting has become a central component to the game.

In the 2013–2014 season, 1,230 total games were played. Of those 1,230 a whopping 366 games featured fights — that’s 29.76 percent of NHL games marred with extreme violence. Unlike most other sports, in hockey when players intend to engage in fisticuffs everyone stands idly by as intrigued spectators, referees included. In the NHL, referees typically do not intervene till one of the combatants has either fallen to the ice or is sufficiently brutalized rendering him defenseless. This is a barbaric and tragic practice for children to constantly witness.

The violence frequently on display at NHL games sets a remarkably poor example for youth hockey players. They should not be subjected to such juvenile lack of impulse control. But baseball is just as bad.

In the MLB several unwritten codes exist. Baseball purists swear by these codes of conduct. While others willing to accept 21st century advancements find many of these “rules” archaic and dangerous. For instance, when a pitcher feels slighted for one reason or another by an opponent, that pitcher is entitled to intentionally throw a baseball at that player their next at-bat. Not exactly an “eye-for-an-eye” but it is certainly a policy of retaliation. Sunday’s regular season matchup between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers was a rematch of the American League Divisional Series from the previous season. That series ended with the Blue Jays advancing after outfielder Jose Bautista hit a 3-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning. Controversy arose after Bautista emphatically flipped his bat after hitting the homerun. Baseball purists and the Rangers took great offense to his celebration and perceived it as a personal attack against their honor, rather than a natural expression of joy.

Regardless, the Rangers apparently did not forget this singular act of “disrespect” and retaliated on Sunday evening when pitcher Matt Bush (not a member of the Rangers team when the notorious bat flip took place) hit Bautista his final at-bat in the 8th inning. While Bautista occupied first base a ground ball was hit to second base. Bautista took this opportunity to slide towards the second basemen in an attempt to disrupt the play at first base. Rangers second basemen Rougned Odor, took exception to Bautista’s slide and immediately shoved him in the chest. As Bautista gathered himself, Odor through a punch connecting with Bautista's left cheek. The force of the punch was so great Bautista’s sunglasses and helmet flew off and Odor’s necklace completed an entire revolution around his neck.

Sadly, the discussion has centered on bat flips and whether Bautista deserves a pass because he didn’t see Odor’s punch coming. Best response — who cares? No seriously. A dude was hit with a vicious, full forced punch to the face for doing his job and all the world seems to care about is a seven month old bat flip, it’s disgusting. Baseball players are not gladiators and the stadiums they play in are not the Roman Colosseum. The only worthwhile discussion emanating from Sunday's game is: How severe will Odor’s punishment be? Odor’s actions instigated a brawl that cleared both benches.

But you know what’s missing from coverage of this game? A reporter willing to acknowledge the violence double standard in baseball and hockey. The amount of violence in hockey is subhuman. But it’s not treated as such. Violence in hockey is a glorified and rewarded pastime. Contrarily, violence in the NBA gives fans carte blanche to refer to fighting players as thuggish or lacking composure. Why is there such a great disparity in media coverage of MLB and NHL violence compared to violence in the NBA and NFL? Is it racial? Whatever it is, the cultural acceptance of violence in Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League is disgraceful. Broadcasters and analysts have no business praising the veracity of violent attacks.

This is not coincidental. The two U.S. professional leagues that are highly critical of violence during competition are the NBA and NFL. Those two leagues are hyper concerned with their public image. In fact, in recent years the NBA has amended policy in order to strengthen punishment against perpetrators of violence. Despite NBA and NFL rules changes to make the game safer, societal stigma for African-American players is different. Some blame highly visible tattoos, while others rightly point out the 30 pounds of equipment covering NFL players. It's not tatoos, or any other superficial reason for the violence acceptance disparity. Thus, in this backwards world, an African-American NBA player simply yelling at an opponent is criminal, while hockey and baseball players have actual criminal acts condoned.

If you don't recognize the privilege allowing white dominated sports to engage in intentional violence, then you're failing to digest reality. 

Final Question: If MLB were dominated by African-Americans the way the NBA and NFL are, would the public response to Odor’s punch be the same?

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