Modern society is of two minds when it comes to authority figures.
On the one hand, we regularly sneer at and deride people who wield power over us and/or the things and people we love; think of the hapless principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the chorus of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of” and the general animus towards Gary Bettman.
On the other hand - and particularly in the sphere of professional sports - nothing less than complete and utter submission to authority will suffice. Any athlete who doesn’t stare at the floor and do precisely as they’re told - even guys like Jeremy Roenick and Brett Hull, both of whom would at best be peripheral egotists in leagues like the NFL and NBA - is cast by the establishment as a dressing room virus that needs to be cured on the quick.
That brings me to Colin Campbell, the NHL’s chief disciplinarian and, after Bettman, hockey’s second-biggest lightning rod of an authority figure, who returned to the news headlines this week thanks to some unsavory email correspondence between himself and former head of officiating Stephen Walkom.
On the one hand, each of Campbell’s decisions is held under a microscope and Zaprudered to death. Hockey fans and media have made him the anti-Humpty-Dumpty, a piñata-like egg that can always be knocked down, bashed in and put together for the same purposes time and again.
Yet on the other hand, the NHL has elevated Campbell to demi-god status.
Now, those in the league and media who have dealt with him over his 12-year reign will tell you he is a humble, self-deprecating hard worker who loves the game as much as anyone. Because of his many admirable qualities, Campbell’s function within the league has been easier to live with than it would be were he some crusty old grudge-holder.
But just because I like Campbell doesn’t mean I think he should continue on in his current role. At least, not on his own.
As I’ve said for years, the NHL’s disciplinary duties ought to be handled by a multi-person panel. If the league wants fewer of its verdicts to be questioned, adding more official voices to the process is absolutely crucial.
It doesn’t matter whether the panel is comprised of three, five or seven people, as long as the decision can’t be pinned on one person, I’d be happy.
And I wouldn’t be alone.
“I think it should be a committee,” said former NHL star Jeremy Roenick. “I know Colin isn’t alone in the decisions and I know he’s a good man who loves the game, who loves his kid (Boston Bruin Gregory Campbell) and wants good hockey. He’s done nothing but bring respect and validity to the game.
“But I don’t think you can take money out of people’s pockets based on one person’s opinion. Almost everything else is a panel so I don’t see why there shouldn’t be one here.”
Added one NHL team executive: “I think everybody respects everything that ‘Colie’ has done for the league. But it’s like a coach or a GM in any market: you spend enough time in one place, people are going to eventually focus more on the mistakes you’ve made - or what they disagree with you about - than the good you’ve done.
“If you put a panel in there and the names on that panel can be changed over time, suddenly you’ve removed a lot of the basis for people’s complaints. Sooner or later, I think the league is going to realize that and make the change.”
Can you imagine if the Hockey Hall of Fame’s induction decisions were made by a single soul? (Of course, given the mafia-like code of secrecy surrounding the HHOF, it might actually work that way). Fans, media and players would be up in arms, just the way they are after virtually every one of Campbell’s punishments is announced.
So don’t believe the people who would argue that, hey, this is just ‘Colie’ being ‘Colie.’ That the way things are now is the way they will be forever; that we should all be content knowing Campbell is a benevolent dictator. It’s simply not true.
There is a better way - one that could include Campbell or anyone else interested in the job of player punishment - and all it takes to get there is the same willingness to change that helped kill off the Dead Puck Era.
Most hockey people dislike the shootout because it emphasizes an individual element inside a team sport - and changes have recently been made by the league to tone down that individual emphasis.
If only they felt similarly about an aspect of the game far more important than the shootout.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Wednesdays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
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