James Lawton: Riot transforms US sport into the goon show

Here in American sport necessity can be the mother of some gruesome invention.

Here in American sport necessity can be the mother of some gruesome invention.

The reminder of this is the suggestion that Ron Artest, the Indiana Pacers basketball player who has been banned for a season for his key part in the recent appalling riot during the game against the Detroit Pistons, might just fill in some of his spare time in the ring.

His preferred opponent would apparently be one of the currently unemployed "goons" of the National Hockey League. The goon is the enforcer, the man who is in the game to "protect" his more gifted team-mates. One of the most famous was Dave Semenko, whose huge responsibility was to look after the great Wayne Gretsky. "There is only one way of dealing with 'Cement Head' said another equally celebrated enforcer, Tiger Williams. "You don't say hi, you just whack him across the face with your stick."

Williams, who in his time was the most punished player in the history of the league, is unfortunately hitting his fifties now, which even in boxing might be considered just a little late to start a new career.

This means that if the Artest initiative does bear fruit, he might find himself going with a contemporary tough man like Tie Domi, of the Toronto Maple Leafs, or Donald Brashear, of Philadelphia.

If it happened it would reverse one of the oldest jokes in North American sport, which went like this, "I went to the fight last night and a hockey game broke out."

Much more hilarious for some is the possibility that the NHL's season will be rescued in a curtailed form by the latest proposals of the players' union. They are offering to take 24 per cent pay cuts in response to the fact that 30 clubs lost almost half a billion dollars over the last two seasons. The NHL says it just cannot go on operating under the weight of such losses and it seems a touching spirit of self-sacrifice is emerging in the locker-rooms. How else can you describe the willingness of the league's best-paid player, Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers, to drop from $11m (£5.8m) a year to a belt-tightening $8.36m?

If it's still true that a sniffle in America quickly turns into a raging cold in England, maybe the pugnacious Wayne Rooney should start thinking about getting the gloves on.

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