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New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh, left, and Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cooke work along the boards in the second period of the NHL hockey game, Sunday, March 20, 2011 in Pittsburgh. The Rangers won 5-2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) (Keith Srakocic)
New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh, left, and Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cooke work along the boards in the second period of the NHL hockey game, Sunday, March 20, 2011 in Pittsburgh. The Rangers won 5-2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) (Keith Srakocic)

Globe editorial

Time to cut a dirty player loose Add to ...

Mario Lemieux, owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey club, should put his money where his mouth is and terminate his contractual arrangement with Matt Cooke, probably the National Hockey League's dirtiest player. It is rare in any private business that an employee who gives the company a black eye as often as Matt Cooke has should be given so many chances to reform. It is as if he had gone out of his way to embarrass Mr. Lemieux, who spoke out last month against the league's weak response to violence.

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The National Hockey League suspended Mr. Cooke on Monday for the 10 games left in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs, for yet another purposeful headshot. He should have been banned for the whole season. It was his fifth NHL suspension. The league's rule against what are known as blindside hits aimed at the head came in after a devastating hit he threw last year that may have helped end the career of a skilled player, Marc Savard.

In hockey terms, Mr. Cooke is useful. He has skill and a decent enough amount of speed that he can take a regular turn on the ice; and he is an intimidating presence, so dirty that opposing players constantly need to be aware of where he is. Intimidation has always been part of hockey. But this is intimidation of a kind that promises career-ending injuries to those with no means to defend themselves.

Mr. Lemieux, who has never been held hostage to hockey's cloistered thinking, evidently finds it hard to part with this useful player. But the crushing irony is that, in keeping Mr. Cooke around, he is ensuring that his own brain-injured star player, Sidney Crosby, will be at risk if and when he does come back.

Mr. Cooke helps create an environment in which players who repeatedly target the heads of other players, whether from the blind side or straight on, with a heavily-padded elbow, maintain their jobs. A game in which Mr. Cooke is tolerated is a game that is not safe for Sidney Crosby.

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