Game misconduct

Courts and public opinion blowing the whistle on hockey violence

Date published: 2007-02-05 10:47:05 AM

The NHL lockout may be keeping the professionals off the ice, but it certainly isn’t keeping hockey out of the headlines.

With Canada’s recent win at the world junior championship, and Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi’s slap-on-the-wrist sentence for severely injuring fellow NHL player Steve Moore, hockey—and especially the violent nature of the sport—is keeping everyone talking.

“As Canadians, the everyday patterns and rhythms of our lives are linked to hockey,” says sociology professor Kevin Young. “The hockey strike has given us a great opportunity to think about what we’ve lost and what kind of sport we want back.”

While the University of Calgary professor has been studying violence in sport for the past two decades, Young has only recently turned his gaze to Canada’s favourite game.

“Many Canadians are not prepared to take violence in hockey seriously,” he explains. “It is almost as if, in Canada, violence is so connected to hockey that we don’t even see it as something we might want to criticize or change.”

Young, working with SSHRC Aurora Prize winner Michael Atkinson of McMaster University, is studying how Canada regulates violence in elite men’s and women’s hockey, both inside and outside the leagues, and how perceptions of violence have changed over time.

“We aren’t looking at whether or not hockey violence is getting worse,” says Young. “We want to know how society has responded to and attempted to control violence in hockey over the years.”

And, according to Young, it is society that seems to be changing, not the sport.

“We seem to have moved from taking hockey fights and hockey injuries for granted, to seeing them as violence, to treating them as a criminal act,” he explains. “For example, in the 1950s, the media and the hockey community justified Rocket Richard’s infamous fights as manly hot-headedness. And while some people still see hockey aggression this way, attitudes have clearly changed.”

With more and more incidents of sports-related violence ending up in the courts, and greater public concern over how professional brawls influence kids on the ice, Young says his research will take a critical look at how Canada deals with hockey violence, and whether or not we should adjust our attitudes to the often serious, and sometimes catastrophic, injuries that result.

Kevin Young’s research on violence in hockey is funded through SSHRC’s Standard Research Grants program.