Commentary

After Downie's hit, justice must be swift and harsh

Updated: September 28, 2007, 11:46 AM ET
By George Johnson | Special to ESPN.com

Let's see …

Left his feet? Check.

Dean McAmmond
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan HaywardDean McAmmond was carried out on a stretcher after Steve Downie's hit and was released from the hospital a day later.

Targeted the head? Check.

Snatched a quick peek after the carnage to see if any official had caught him with his fingerprints all over the severely damaged evidence? Check.

Yes, Steve Downie did absolutely everything that should get someone suspended from now until forever Tuesday night. The Flyers winger's mind-mushing "hit" -- for want of a better description -- on Ottawa winger Dean McAmmond at 2:49 of the second period at Scotiabank Place has once again fired debate over the issue of head shots.

McAmmond wound up in the hospital. Does it take someone going to the morgue?

The time for NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell to lay down the gavel, loud and hard, is at hand. There isn't punishment harsh enough for such a potentially debilitating act.

Hockey is a tough game, there is a risk factor involved every time players step onto the ice. It's part of the pact, but there are limits. There has to be.

Whether Downie led with an elbow, a shoulder, a forearm -- whatever -- is irrelevant.

"We're not out there trying to kill each other," Senators tough guy Brian McGrattan said.

Amen to that.

If only Clarence Darrow had the Downie tape at his disposal at the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, the evolutionists would've won out in a landslide. Hey, we know a lot of these hockey players received their formal education riding buses between such exotic locales as Moose Jaw and Swift Current, Oshawa and Belleville, but you shouldn't need a Harvard degree to figure out what Downie did is a very bad thing.

The pro-Steve Downie faction, if there could possibly be such a thing, might argue McAmmond should have had his noggin up while rounding the net, insinuating, stupidly, that he in some sick way is responsible for what happened. What a crock. It's the oldest trick in the book: Blame the victim.

When anyone targets the head area and jumps up and into an opposing player, he should understand the consequences.

The ramifications for those wronged have been well-documented. Consult either Lindros, Eric or Brett, Pat LaFontaine or any of a long list for the painful details. McAmmond's career was put in jeopardy by Downie's move.

Justice, Mr. Campbell, must be swift and harsh. Whether the person in the dock is a marginal player like Downie or a perennial All-Star. Whether the victim in question is a proud journeyman like McAmmond or a bona fide moneymaker like, say, Sidney Crosby.

If there is no strong deterrent, this sort of willfully destructive behavior will continue. There will always be Downies flying around the ice trying to make a name for themselves, only too happy to push the envelope until it tears. Downie is a 20-year-old rottweiler trying to make a name for himself by collecting pelts. He added McAmmond to his list Tuesday; the same McAmmond, remember, who was knocked out during June's Stanley Cup finals, courtesy of an elbow to the head from Anaheim's Chris Pronger.

Now, Downie didn't have time to check McAmmond's medical/concussion history before he launched himself into him like a rocket exiting Cape Canaveral. The game moves far too fast for that. But such careless disregard for a fellow human being's health is beyond defending.

"The type of player I am, it's part of my game to finish my check," Downie explained after the game, as if that in some inexplicable way condoned his act. "I'm sorry if he's hurt."

Sorry isn't nearly enough. Calling McAmmond to apologize isn't, either. This is why people wind up walking funny, talking funny and shake holding the soup spoon once their playing days are over.

And don't for an instant think the onus is only on the league to clean up this sort of garbage. When the NHL Players' Association next convenes, it might want to spend less time chewing over legal matters and readdress the vital topic of a little respect for one another within its own membership.

Put aside the paying public and queasy scribblers for the moment. Every NHL player should be outraged by what we saw countless times on replay Tuesday night, too. Because unless this strain of chilling disregard is eradicated, next time, it could be any one of them rounding that net.

Gentlemen, Mr. Campbell, over to you.

George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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