For the Sun Times
The sport of hockey is sending a mixed message in regards to on-ice violence, says a sociology professor at the University of Calgary.
On-hand to speak at a session of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs Sept. 20 at the Lethbridge Public Library, guest speaker Kevin Young said that while there have been repeated attempts to make the sport safer for children and adults, there is still debate on the definition of hockey violence.
Citing the attack of Todd Bertuzzi on Steven Moore in 2004 and Marty McSorley’s stick-swinging incident on Donald Brashear in 2000, Young said that while programs are being implemented to protect younger hockey players, not much has changed at the National Hockey League level.
“The world of hockey has a hypocritical and contradictory position on this — and this is important — because at the same time the institution of hockey introduces a stop program, a ‘Relax, it’s just a game’ program and a ‘Look around, those people will get injured’ program it still continues to offer a brand of the game that means the Todd Bertuzzi’s and the Marty McSorley (incidents mean) there will be more cases of those along the line.”
The issue on violence in hockey goes back a long way, said Young.
“At this point in 2010, literally generations of Canadians and Canadian scholars have led the scientific research on wanting to do something about violence in hockey,” he said. “This research isn’t new. There was a guy in the 1980s that worked at York University by the name of Michael Smith who actually encouraged press councils to change their versions of coverage so the hockey (fight) photographs wouldn’t exist or they would be lowered in frequency because they were sending out the wrong message to communities. The point I’m trying to make is that people have been looking critically at the violence of hockey for a very long time. I just happen to be speaking about it in 2010.”
Those in attendance at the seminar were given a chance to take the mic for a question-and-answer session, and while most agreed with Young’s insights others offered different viewpoints, sparking some debate.
“The institutional level of hockey at all levels, as one of the speakers implied, has been very serious and responsibly want to deal with injuries and risk and harm for a very long time,” said Young. “The question is, has it been responsible enough? At some levels it shows more integrity than others. At the highest level of the game in the NHL, I don’t believe its shown much integrity and responsibility as it could show because of its practises where violence, high shots, head shots, high sticking and particularly fist fighting have been inconsistent and continue to be inconsistent.
“In addition to that, it continues to be supported by so many corners of the game, which includes the press and TV.”
His stance on hockey violence aside, Young said he’s as much of a fan of the game and its physical aspects as the next person.
“There are aspects of Canadian hockey are aesthetically beautiful in the same way there are aspects of soccer, speed skating or speed jumping which, aesthetically, are beautiful to watch,” he said. “Most Canadians have some affinity with performances on a blade. It could be figure skating, it could be speed skating or it might be ice hockey. There’s something Canadian about that even though it’s a stereotype.
“On the other hand, the way in which the way the game has been formed over time is such that there are other aspects of the game which are less attractive and represent the darker side of the sport. Some people defend these darker aspects of the sport and some people don’t defend them, are critical of them and want them changed.”