Explicit rules have costs

Relationships between people can be governed by explicit rules and also by informal understandings. Explicit rules often seem more efficient and more equitable, but they can have significant costs, too. A recent incident in the National Hockey League illustrates. Discussing Todd Bertuzzi’s blindside attack on Steve Moore, which resulted in Moore sustaining a concussion and three fractured vertabrae in his neck, Los Angeles Times reporters Helene Elliott and Elliott Teaford write (unfortunately, no longer free):

The incident ignited a firestorm of criticism of the NHL’s tolerance of fighting and rough play. But many players, observers and officials say Bertuzzi’s attack was an indirect consequence of the instigator rule, which was adopted in 1992 as part of the league’s effort to minimize the fighting that bloodied its image in the 1970s.

In its current form, the instigator rule mandates penalties and suspensions for players who start fights and accumulate instigator infractions over the course of a season. However, many say it has made players reluctant to retaliate against cheap shots for fear they’ll get an instigator penalty and put their teams at a disadvantage.


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