Dear NHL: Hit The Puck, Not The Players

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Ah, we still do the town on New Year's Eve, but tearing the goal posts down is now verboten. Deemed too dangerous. In fact, as our new year approaches, it's a good time to look back on several other things in sport that have long since faded away.

Who remembers, for example, that at the end of each inning in the field, baseball players would just chuck their gloves onto the grass behind their position, leaving the field littered with mitts. All game long.

A lot of basketball courts were surrounded by a cage of chain link fence. That's why basketball players were called "cagers" before they were called "hoopsters."

Tennis players wouldn't put balls in their pockets. They'd hold two balls when they served, so that if the server got the first ball in, he'd carry a ball with him throughout the rest of the point.

Professional golfers smoked as they walked the links. On the green, a golfer –– I remember Arnold Palmer in particular –– would line up his putt, smoking still, then throw the cigarette aside, onto the green, putt, pick up his cigarette, inhale and move onto the next tee. It all seemed very rakish and debonair at the time.

Co-eds were called co-eds and had corsages pinned on them at football games.

Baseball players wore stirrup socks and basketball players wore short shorts.

So a lot of things in sport which seemed absolutely institutionalized as part of the game did change. Yes, some alterations are merely stylistic. Others, though, are quite substantive.

So will the National Hockey League –– especially Commissioner Gary Bettman –– please take note? It's time, in the year 2012, to do away with fighting in NHL games. Yes, some fans who grew up with it may like it and think it's a necessary part of the game. But it is anachronistic and idiotic and players get hurt. The idea that you have special goons to battle each other while the game stops completely makes hockey seem hokey.

If the NHL really believes that it needs staged fighting to succeed, then the people who run the NHL don't have much belief in the intrinsic worth of their sport as a sport.

Let us hope that one day very soon in the new year that Bettman simply announces that, that's it: Starting tomorrow, fighting in hockey is against the rules –– as it is in every other real sport. Then we could welcome ice hockey into the 21st century.

Of course, it would also be nice to get short shorts back, too.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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