Social Dysfunction And Trash Talk: Why The EIHL Needs To Toughen Up

So, it’s another wonderful Friday in the British Elite League. Another quiet day of preparation for the weekend’s games, professional media releases, and no controversy whatsoever.

Sorry…did I say “no” controversy? I meant “yet more”.

Remember the EIHL social media policy, which was meant to step in and professionalize the game a little more after some abusive tweets back and forth between players and fans (particularly Cardiff’s Devin DiDiomete and Coventry fans, neither of whom have particularly covered themselves in glory over the incident). Remember DiDiomete’s tweets to Mike Danton referencing his past?
Well, Cardiff played Hull last night. After the game DiDiomete was (to be fair to him) getting some stick from Hull fans for not taking on their enforcer Ryan Hand. There were plenty of possible targets for a response, something which Devin is not exactly backwards in coming forwards in doing. However, his one tweet picked a female fan, and said this:

You (twitter name) are what we call a shovel face,it looks as if someone took a shovel and hammered your face with it. #ShovelFace”

Classy indeed. But under the current EIHL policy, allowed.

Also allowed is the ongoing Twitter war between the “voice of British hockey” Dave Simms and DiDiomete. Which is a mix of bad personal insults and the odd innuendo, all faithfully retweeted by Devils/Steeler fans. Pretty sure there aren’t many other leagues where the main media “face” is allowed to exchange petty snipes with one of the players AND the player’s allowed to fire back with personal jibes about weight and appearance.

Then there’s this article in that well known paragon of impartial reporting, the Sheffield Star, which pretty much threatens physical retribution against an opposition player (Coventry’s Brad Leeb in this case). Let’s analyse it, shall we?

Arena supporters will not have forgiven (Leeb) for sucker-punching crowd favourite Jason Hewitt two weeks ago.

Hewitt – who may have his own statement to make at centre ice – suffered a broken nose in the attack from behind.

So, what we’ve got here is a statement of a sucker-punch (which happened-fair enough) followed by a) a hint that Hewitt will seek to gain revenge in a fight (the language is carefully worded, but any hockey fan reading that will know the inference) and a reiteration of Hewitt suffering a broken nose.

The same “broken nose” that was unprotected by a cage or full visor when Coventry took on Sheffield the night after the incident.

Following that, there’s an admittance that any revenge attack would be at least implicitly approved of by coach Ryan Finnerty:

Coach Ryan Finnerty probably wouldn’t be surprised if there was some element of retribution when Coventry return to the Arena tomorrow (7pm.)

Swiftly followed by a blatant covering of backsides:

But any personal score to be settled comes down the team’s list of priorities, he says.

Of course.

One paragraph later, though, the article all but admits that there’ll be a good chance of a fight off the opening faceoff:

Asked if Hewitt would be in a starting line up with gloves ready to be dropped, Finnerty replied: “We’ll see…”

So far, we’ve had veiled hints of retribution that are basically saying “WE’RE GOING TO GET BRAD LEEB BUT WE CAN’T SAY IT PUBLICLY!”

Then, just in case the message hasn’t got across, Dave Simms chimes in, as is the law when Sheffield are involved:

“Whilst I am sure not one of our players will openly say that there is to be some retribution, I think Brad Leeb will end up having to pay the price for his actions this weekend.”

Well done, Steelers. In one sentence you’ve tried to regain the high-ground and then tumbled off it by all out saying “REVENGE IS COMING! WE’RE GONNA GET YOU, LEEB!

So basically, in the past two days what we’ve had is an EIHL league player attacking a female fan on Twitter, followed by a team official saying in an official media publication and RTing on Twitter that his team will be planning on targeting an opposition player for revenge.

That social media policy-working well, isn’t it? Fairly sure that had a similar article appeared in the press saying one Premier League player would be looking to “send a message” to another, with quotes about hard tackles and that kind of thing, the FA would be considering disrepute charges.

I’d be interested to see what’ll happen if (heaven forbid) Brad Leeb is actually injured this weekend as a result of a Steeler players’ actions after the coach and media official have said in not so many words that he’s got a massive bullseye on his back as far as they’re concerned.

(The Blaze, meanwhile, have chosen to focus on the issue of the team’s injury struggles in their hype ahead of the weekend, avoiding any mention of previous events such as Hewitt’s vicious check from behind on Steven Chalmers which started the whole Leeb melee in the first place. Good on them for not being drawn into the war of words Sheffield clearly want)

I’m fairly sure (well, I hope) this article is merely harmless posturing, the like of which we see in leagues all over the place (although in the NHL or other leagues they’re usually fined for it). But even if it is, it throws up an issue in British hockey.

When I’m calling games, I have to be VERY careful what I say because a) the Blaze are conscious of how it’ll reflect on them and b) I, too, am conscious of professionalism. Sure, I’ll go near the knuckle sometimes, but as far as I’m aware I’ve never actually crossed it on air-and this blog, like all the others, is very carefully worded to get my point across without actually crossing the line. I’ve learned the hard way what happens when you let your mouth run away with you in public forums, even if your original point might be solid.

It seems that the Blaze are far more conscious of their public image than some other teams in the league.

Right now, someone in the EIHL hierarchy needs to have words with teams and players, and remind them that, while hype is a good thing, articles like this are the kind of thing that just make teams look a little silly at best, and liable to accusations of premeditated violence at worst. Not exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from a supposedly professional league and media outlet-nor from the supposed “voice of British hockey”. At least not if the sport wants to be taken seriously in the wider world.

Tell you what, though. If nothing else, this weekend’s double-header should be interesting…

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