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Personal rehabilitation and the community

So yesterday the Wild upset me and Tim by getting rid of Setoguchi and using the money to get Matt Cooke. I know this means nothing to you, so let me give you some background: Matt Cooke is a goon. This is the nicest language I can use, because I don’t want to distract anybody with exactly how angry I am: it is an objective fact that he is a goon, that his hits are dirty and his play unacceptable.

And my team is keeping him around. Is paying him a non-trivial amount to do so. Is associating him with people who are interested in professional hockey in general, and with the Minnesota Wild in specific.

This is, to say the least, pretty upsetting.

See, hockey is a rough game. Anybody who talked about the unique physicality of a hockey game would be right; professional hockey is really pretty unique that way because it consists of very large men on an enclosed slippery surface. And because people have not chosen to take steps to make it not that way, which they could do. But there are hits and then there are dirty hits. Hits to the head. Slashes to tendons. Things that fans of a player might want to look at and say, “That was an accident,” but they just can’t. Because it wasn’t any accident. Because when you are a hockey player, it is your job to have enough control over yourself and your play not to have that kind of accident.

Matt Cooke has seriously injured several other players with head shots. The management of the Wild knows it. And they have chosen to employ him anyway. I love my team. They entertain me. They do really fun things, and I love, love having them in town. There’s no one else in the game quite like them, for me. And they have chosen to employ Matt Cooke.

So…Matt Cooke has assured the world that he’s rehabilitating himself. That he is turning over a new leaf and becoming a new kind of player. Tom–I’m sorry, why was I thinking Tom? Chuck Fletcher has assured us all in the Strib today that he believes Cooke is going to be a fine contributor to the team and not cause the kind of problems he’s caused before.

And me, I believe in rehabilitation. I do. I believe that people are allowed to become better people. I believe in helping people learn from their mistakes.

But there’s got to be a line drawn, and my question is where is that line drawn? Where do somebody’s repeated mistakes make you think, “Okay, buddy, why don’t you become a better person tending bar at Applebee’s somewhere, or selling Kenmores at Sears? Why don’t you become a better person in a field that is not quite so fraught with baggage as this one? Run a soup kitchen. All the best to you. Get out of my field.”

I think Matt Cooke is past that line for me. Because not only is this a person who has had egregious dirty hits. He’s had them after he said he was going to change his game. After his behavior was specifically pointed out as unacceptable; after his own coaches and teammates said that it was the kind of stuff the game did not need. After. This is not an inexperienced kid who has never played the game before. This is not a clumsy guy who just picked up hockey later in life. He had his chance to learn appropriate behavior in his field as a young person, and then he had another chance when people noticed that he hadn’t learned it.

And as long as a major company in his profession continues to employ Matt Cooke, even if they say he’s turned over a new leaf, I just don’t believe that he will. I believe that they’re enabling him, and they’re using one of my favorite teams in my favorite sport to do that. And that upsets me. It makes me angry. The guys on the other teams should not have serious reason to fear when one of our players is on the ice. Fear that they’ll get checked into the boards, sure, that’s hockey as it is played. But fear that they will be deliberately concussed or crippled, given injuries that will drive them out of working in their field of choice, not accidentally but deliberately? No. That’s not okay. And when it’s my team, in some sense they’re doing it in my name.

I want somebody to grab the guys in juniors and in the minors who are watching Matt Cooke and say, “Look, this is not a way to be. This is not a way to get a career. This is not our game.” I want somebody in the community to intervene–and to intervene believably–to show younger men that Cooke is not their role model and that this behavior will not be accepted. I want to catch them before they become this guy. Cooke’s not the first. I wanted it with Todd Bertuzzi, whose name in this house is That Little Bastard Bertuzzi. I’ve wanted it with half a dozen other players at least. Because this kind of bad behavior can taint an entire field. Can hurt people and ruin lives. And if you pay the guy, you’re supporting it.

You know what I mean?

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