Hockey Violence – By Kevin Vowles

I grew up with Hockey and loved the game. I played it and found great joy in the puck and the ball. I don’t remember there being a lot of fights back 20-30 years ago, but I suppose they did exist. They were certainly present by the time I was a teenager and watching games. I also grew up with a strong appreciation for the history of hockey. I met the likes of Jean Beliveau and Bobby Orr, growing up in Kingston, Ontario – a hockey town if ever there was one. The first game of hockey ever played was in the inner harbour in downtown Kingston. Hockey was all around me while I was growing up. It was on TV, in the corner store where they sold packets of cards at school where we played.

By the time I was in my mid-20s and heading off to Africa to do volunteer work, my interest in the game had waned significantly. Part of the reason I was letting go was the violence that I found pervasive. To compound this, when I was in my early 20s a scandal hit my home town of Kingston. The Queen’s University coach issued a haunting directive to his players, to “rape their women.” It shocked a city, and myself personally. Suddenly a gentleperson’s game resembled a warzone comparable with the most horrific in which rape was to be used as a weapon of war. Impressionable and fiery, I began to reject the game I had loved, declaring it to be too violent.  Sports can be a breeding ground for sexism, hyper masculine behaviour, and even in this case encourage predatory sexual behaviours perpetuating gender-based violence.

Within hockey, at varying levels, violence has grown extreme.  The Todd Bertuzzi hit of 2004 left Steve Moore unable to even play hockey anymore. Everywhere I looked (and still look) players make huge sums of money while people starve in this world. It has never seemed right, and while it could be justified by the notion that after hockey players need to be set for life, I somehow wasn’t buying this explanation, because we all have to work. The fights grew more prevalent and I grew increasingly disillusioned.  In lower level hockey and other sports, reports of violent hazings, often sanctioned by staff, have left many questioning the increasingly prevalent encroachment of violence into the games we love, and encourage our children to take up.

The violence on the ice has morphed into post game violence, particularly in playoff situations. Should we be surprised that the young men in the streets behave violently, especially under the influence of alcohol, when the men they look up to commit violent and brutal assaults on the ice? Should we be surprised when we see blood in the streets when there is blood on the ice? Should we really be surprised that hockey is violent when there is so much violence in the world? In a world occupied by superpowers with leaders who care nothing for the rule of international law, should we be surprised that one of the most cherished past times has also turned violent? When our own leader cares more for building prisons than investing in preventative social programs to stop violence before it happens and keep people out of prisons, no I don’t think we should be surprised.

We should however, as men and women whose future sons and daughters will grow up with the game on some possible level, advocate for something better, because if we are teaching kids that fists are the way you solve a conflict, we are going to continue to live in a world where this happens. It should also be done because hockey is a game that originally started out as a game that was played for fun, and for fitness. It has morphed into a competitive all-consuming game, where coaches play the better players to win. In some ways it has fallen into a state of violence and toughness that is all about making money and hyper-masculinity for some. For others in the media and corporations, it is about fighting, violence and creating a culture desensitized to the realities of violence. I guess my question that I’d like to throw out there this month, is this: Is it possible, given the concussions and ripple effects of on ice violence, to remove the violence from hockey?

By Kevin Vowles – R+R Adult Facilitator

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