Gary Bettman doesn't have the guts to stop NHL's head-hunters

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Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa is taken off the ice on a stretcher after getting an elbow from Phoenix Coyotes left wing Raffi Torres during Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals at The United Center in Chicago,Ill on Tuesday, April 17, 2012. (AP Photo /Daily Herald, Steve Lundy) MANDATORY CREDIT

How did you like it, Gary Bettman?

There it was, right in front of you – a man almost killed on the ice. Or maybe just paralyzed.

You were in the stands at the United Center on Tuesday night, observing with the packed house, much the way a Roman emperor must have observed in heightened blood lust as his gladiators hacked away at slaves and lions.

The Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa could have become the NHL’s first Darryl Stingley. Wouldn’t that have been something for the resume?

That Hossa’s up and walking is irrelevant. We’re talking about millimeters of direction, micro-vectors of force. It’s luck, not intention or velocity or desire, that kept him from becoming a dead or crippled man.

I don’t want to hear about the instigator in the brutal shoulder-to-head hit, the Phoenix Coyote’s thug, Raffi Torres. There’s a Torres on every team. They’re not all as effective in their brutality as the 6-0, 223-pound Torres, but they’re there. Coaches love them. Don’t kid yourself. Why, the Blackhawks just re-upped the contract of career goon Dan “Car Bomb” Carcillo. In January coach Joel Quenneville said after Carcillo was suspended indefinitely for a cheap into-the-boards hit, “from our perspective, he’s doing everything we want.”

Or as Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said after Sidney Crosby fought the Pittsburgh Penguins Claude Giroux on Sunday, “That’s really playoff hockey, isn’t it?”

And he was speaking about stars who have already been damaged from head blows in their careers, not cement-bucketed goons.

It’s always about “enforcing” or “instigating” or “setting the tone” or “paying back” or “protecting” or “being a man.”

And one must wonder: why are there even referees?

Dear God, if players are also the enforcers of rules, why not just hand out pitchforks and be done with it?

There are no secrets anymore about the dangers of blows to the head. The U.S. military awards Purple Heart medals to soldiers who have been violently concussed. The lingering and accumulating effects from head trauma are known, documented and feared. Dementia is the scar for the wounded to wear.

Yet here is the NHL, playoffs rolling, with a new audience tuning in, and the bludgeoning of players’ heads is on display like some kind of peak into the bowels of a human slaughterhouse.

The “macho” mentality that pervades and, indeed, is encouraged in the NHL promotes the code of fighting and targeting the head more than any other part of the body.

Bettman has done almost nothing to stop this.

“Kill the head and the body will die.” How many times have we heard that bit of sporting advice, and not just from bounty-hunting NFL coaches. It’s a phrase for morons.

Of course, the body dies when the head is killed. The brain is more important than the gonads, men.

Did anybody in the NHL ever attend a biology class?

Bigger question: Did anybody ever attend an ethics class, or one on civilization, or one that has to do with the scientific process called cause and effect?

Torres, who knocked out Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook in last year’s playoffs, said, “I’m not trying to hurt anybody out there.”

That’s what they all say, Mr. Commissioner. And you sit there and call fighting “a thermostat” for letting off steam before really bad things happen. Again, what are refs for?

There were four of them on the ice when Torres tried to damage Hossa. No penalty called. Astounding.

Nobody seems to know or care about the three brain-damaged enforcers who killed themselves last year or the decaying brain of former Blackhawks fighter Bob Probert who died at age 45 in 2010.

This beautiful game is turning into a bowl of putrescence, the way any sport will when it has no borders, no overseer, no conscience.

Must every sport mutate into “The Hunger Games” or “Rollerball”?

A recent poll of NHL players in Sports Illustrated showed that 99.5 percent of them did not want fighting banned. They like it.

Many of the fights in these playoffs have been ones in which someone was trying to “kill the head.” Like butchers.

It doesn’t matter how many people enjoy the splatter – from players, to fans, to the NHL front office –this is simply wrong.

No hits above the shoulders. Ever. A simple rule.

It’s a shame, Mr. Bettman, you don’t have the stones to enact it.

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