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Governor General David Johnston takes part in a hockey practice with charitable organization H.E.R.O.S. while on a visit in Vancouver, British Columbia February 15, 2012. (ANDY CLARK/REUTERS)
Governor General David Johnston takes part in a hockey practice with charitable organization H.E.R.O.S. while on a visit in Vancouver, British Columbia February 15, 2012. (ANDY CLARK/REUTERS)

Globe Editorial

Fighting in hockey not a safety valve to prevent other forms of reprisals -- Governor General Add to ...

The people who run the National Hockey League are loath to listen to outsiders, feeling that only they, the stewards of the game, understand what hockey is and how it should be played.

But David Johnston, the Governor-General of Canada, played the game at a high level and understands it. He might even have had a professional hockey career – but for his mother’s insistence that he get an education. (The lack of schooling opportunities is still a glaring problem for Canadians who leave home to play major junior hockey.) He was a certifiable Canadian-style “grinder” at Harvard University – no star, but strong in the corners. Poor man, rather than a misbegotten life as a law professor and Governor-General, he might have been a hockey player!

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The stewards of the NHL should know the depth of concern among people like him – people who know and love the game. Mr. Johnston wants action taken against headshots and against fighting, which is by definition an invitation to give injurious shots to the head. He takes issue with the notion that fighting is a safety valve that protects players from more violent forms of reprisals (using sticks as weapons, for instance). Baseball, football, basketball – none permits fighting, he notes. Are they filled with violent and illegal revenge? No.

And should such revenge be taken on the ice, the league could mete out harsh punishments, he points out.

Is it any of his business? Of course. Hockey is a national trust, and who better to talk about a national trust than the Governor-General? Goonery is “not what we want to teach our children,” he says – a point that from here on needs to be taken seriously by hockey’s brain trust.

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