By Ken Reed
I’ve been a long-time critic of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his NHL cronies. The league’s stance on fighting and gratuitous cheap shots resulting from “Hockey’s Code” is so ridiculous it would be laughable if a multitude of current and former NHL players weren’t suffering the effects of brain damage as a result.
Given what we know about concussions and brain trauma today, one has to wonder why there are still goons employed in the NHL for the primary purpose of playing Macho Man enforcer.
However, those topics are for another day. Today, I want to focus on a few positive aspects of Bettman’s league. The report card on the NHL certainly isn’t all bad. In fact, the NHL has some traditions that trump anything the other three major professional sports leagues have.
For one, nothing comes close to the trophy that goes to the champion of the NHL. The Stanley Cup is probably the most sought after trophy in all of sports. Players are willing to make numerous personal sacrifices for the honor of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup above their heads after winning the NHL championship. After the final playoff series is over, the Cup is first presented to the winning team’s captain, who after parading it around the ice a bit, hands if off to another key player on his team — often a teammate having the most seniority in the league, or with his current team. Eventually, every member of the winning team gets a chance to raise the Cup above his head during the on-ice celebration. Adding to the specialness of this skate, is the knowledge that the Cup is the same trophy that past champions have hoisted. The NHL doesn’t make new trophies every year to hand out to their champions, like the other pro sports leagues do. The Cup is the same trophy past champions have clutched — and sipped champagne from.
Another thing that makes winning the Cup special for hockey players is the NHL tradition of engraving the name of every member of the winning team on the Cup. To have one’s name placed on the trophy — alongside the names of teammates — is the ultimate hockey honor.
One of my favorite Stanley Cup traditions is the impromptu team photo after the final game, in which sweaty — sometimes bleeding — teammates gather on the ice, surrounding the Cup, for a victory celebration photo shoot. These poses have created some of the coolest pictures in sports history. They depict the ineffable joy of shared sacrifice, camaraderie, and brotherhood among a group of men who have developed an incredibly close bond over the course of a long season and playoff run.
Finally, as a big fan and advocate of sportsmanship, I love nothing more than seeing the handshake line formed by the two teams after the final game of the Stanley Cup series. After the hard-fought battle, combatants line up facing each other for this grand tradition. Players from each team go through the line feeling dramatically different emotions. It’s the ultimate “joy of victory and agony of defeat” moment. Nevertheless, the players, now fellow warriors, proceed to exchange heart-felt hand shakes, words of congratulations, pats on the back, and sometimes emotional hugs. There’s a genuine recognition of the effort each player put into the competition.
“Hockey’s tradition of the post-game handshake is the epitome of sportsmanship,” says Brian Jennings, NHL Executive Vice President of Marketing. “Competitors line up to look each other in the eye, acknowledge each other’s efforts and extend a hand of congratulation or condolence after a hard-fought series. This very honest and authentic moment shows the mutual respect our players have for each other, the sport of hockey and the Stanley Cup.”
On that point, I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Jennings. But you’re just a corporate suit. What does the handshake tradition mean to a player?
“As much as you hate them when you’re playing against them, at the end of the day we’re all out there trying to do a good job and play the game we love,” says Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand. “To show each other that respect at the end and realize that everything that’s happened is just because we both want to win — it’s definitely a great tradition.”
Due its reluctance to let go of some violent traditions in this era of concussion awareness, the NHL has a long way to go before they can join the 21st century.
But the Stanley Cup traditions and rituals are at once priceless and timeless.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #17 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports With Legendary New York Times Sports Columnist Robert Lipsyte – We chat about Lipsyte’s amazing career and some of the athletes he covered and got to know well, like Muhammad Ali, as well as his relationships with fellow sports journalists like Bob Costas and Howard Cosell.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #16 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Andrew Maraniss: Outstanding Author of Books That Focus On the Intersection of Sports, History and Social Justice.
Episode #15 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Psychology with Dr. Tim Rice. We discuss the growth of sports psychology at all levels, the positive impact that a number of high profile athletes have had by opening up, and the importance of everyone involved in sports caring for the whole athlete, mind and body.
Episode #14 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Making Sense of the Injury Pandemic in Major League Baseball – Gary McCoy is a strength, conditioning and high performance coach who has worked with several Major League Baseball organizations.
Episode #13 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Conversation With Long-Time MLB Exec Dan Evans About What’s Right With Baseball and What Could Be Better – Evans is a former general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is currently a consultant for Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams movie site.
Episode #12 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Fun Chat With Dan Gutman, Author of the Baseball Card Adventure Series for Kids
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon