Listen to this article here
Sign-Up for a free subscription to The Black Wall Street Times‘ daily newsletter, Black Editors’ Edition (BEE) – our curated news selections & opinions by us for you.
Three NBA players were ejected after a clash between the Orlando Magic’s Moe Wagner and Detroit Pistons guard Killian Hayes sparked a bench-clearing brawl on Wednesday.
Hayes and teammate Hamidou Diallo were ejected for their part in the melee that followed.
— Bally Sports Florida: Magic (@BallyMagic) December 29, 2022
The brawl was sparked after Wagner and Hayes chased down a loose ball in the Orlando backcourt. Wagner slyly threw an elbow that caused Hayes to crash into the Detroit bench.
A heated Hayes got back to his feet and threw a punch to the back of Wagner’s head, which appeared to drop the German forward.
While both benches were involved in the altercation, additional suspensions have not been made public yet.
Though players did not go into the stands on Wednesday night, it didn’t stop social media users to liken their scuffle to the infamous “Malice At The Palace” Detroit game against the Indiana Pacers in 2004, a brawl which had ripple effects for all NBA players.
Then-NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Pacers’ Ron Artest for the remainder of the season, 73 games. Other players received thirty, twenty-five, and five-game suspensions. Pistons’ Ben Wallace, whose shove started the brawl, received a six-game suspension. Other players received one-game suspensions for leaving their bench.
One year later, determined to clean up the image of the league, a racist NBA dress code was also enforced for players league-wide.
While fights in the NBA were and remain few and far between, the rare instances in which they do occur are often lambasted and handled with overreaching scrutiny.
The national media coverage has also proven over time to revel in NBA conflict, creating phrases like the “Malice At The Palace,” however, all sports are not created equal.
The NHL has a race problem
The NHL for the first time has done an internal demographic study of its staff and all 32 teams, and the results show that hockey has a lot of work to do to increase diversity at all levels.
The report released in October found that 83.6% of the NHL’s workforce is white and that men make up nearly 62% of the total, based on the 4,200 people who participated in a voluntary and anonymous survey (about 67% of all employees).
That nearly mirrors the situation on the ice, where more than 90% of players and nearly all coaches and officials are White.
Hockey players have been fighting since ice was cold
After the 1979 Boston Bruins v. New York Rangers ended in similarly violent clashes with player’s and fans in the stands fighting as “The Malice At The Palace,” there was no public shame, exiled players, or scarlet letter attached to all involved like the NBA.
The reason? Hockey made fighting apart of its fabric from the very beginning.
Bleacher Report documented a number of clear-cut rules that, while not written down, are explicitly understood by all players. One such rule notes that avid fighters, or “enforcers”, should strive to fight players their own size, and that gloves and helmets should be removed prior to the start of the fight to minimize injuries.
? Laid him OUT! @HockeyFights …
Alex Ovechkin [vs.] Andrei Svechnikov pic.twitter.com/IWZ1LGBNC8
— Mikey Thomas (@MikeyThomas1991) December 21, 2022
The first-ever game of indoor ice hockey, played in Montreal in 1875, was followed by a fight between players and spectators, according to The Hockey News. The first documented fight during a game reportedly occurred in 1890, and fighting was a critical part of the game across amateur leagues by the time the NHL was formed in 1917.
According to the official rulebook of the National Hockey League, an official fight occurs “when at least one player punches or attempts to punch an opponent repeatedly.”
The rulebook also notes that a fight may also occur “when two players wrestle in such a manner as to make it difficult for the linesmen to intervene and separate the combatants.” Fights may also only be between two players, though multiple fights can happen on the ice at the same time.
Yahoo! News reports a number of enforcers, many of whom participated in dozens of fights over their careers, have had their lives cut short.
Todd Ewan, an enforcer from the 1980s, took his own life in 2015, and his wife was convinced there was a connection to his style of play. Bob Probert died of a heart attack in 2010, and it was revealed that his brain showed signs of traumatic injuries. They are but a small sampling of the fighting-prone players who have died at an early age.
Yet, even with irrefutable facts about player health and safety, the cultured practice of NHL fighting continues, and players who throw hands are likely to receive nothing more than a flimsy five-minute penalty.
Even to detriment of their player’s health, the NHL’s rules and referees permit predominately White players to slug each other day in and day out, and nobody has a second thought.
White men in the NHL can behave as barbaric and violent as they choose on any given game, meanwhile, Black men in the NBA are expected to uphold professional standards throughout the course of their entire playing careers and if they ever veer — punishment will be swift and severe.
“If white boys doing it, well, it’s success. When I start doing it, well, it’s suspect.” – Yasiin Bey a.k.a. Mos Def
The NBA is likely to suspend the players involved in Wednesday’s fight, but that will do little to address or solve the way violence is accepted by some, and penalized by others. Simply including fighting in the rule book doesn’t make it excusable for one league to punish Black players while White players literally get to skate by.