No end in sight to hockey violence
HOCKEY is a rough-and-tumble game. No one is denying that and as Canadians anticipate another hockey season, most accept and even cheer the hits that separate hockey from other sports where body contact is avoided.
But hockey has devolved into an often ugly spectacle of fist fights and dirty hits intended to knock opposing players out of the game.
In a growing number of cases, those hits to the head, whether checking or punching, and hits from behind are so violent they injure.
Concussions are a growing problem in the NHL while minor leaguers and young fans watch to mimic their professional heroes.
Sadly, the NHL front office and most team owners seem content to feed fan frenzy for violence. If more people pay for expensive tickets to see the possibility of a brawl and other on-ice violence — as the men who run hockey largely believe — the bottom line takes precedence over player safety and the once good name of the game.
Players themselves may well share the concerns of a growing number of NHL fans about this turn of violence, but to say so publicly would invite undue attention from league “enforcers” who prey upon smaller players, especially ones who score a lot of goals. Sidney Crosby cannot take too many more hits intended to hurt him.
Canada’s doctors this past week joined the growing chorus of concern and complaints about hockey violence.
Delegates to the Canadian Medical Association’s annual meeting voted to “condemn the complacency” of NHL team owners, “tolerating and promoting violence” for financial gain and to the detriment of players.
Doctors are worried because young people love hockey and young players do all they can to copy the pros. And so the violence has infiltrated rinks across the country where coaches tolerate and even encourage it alongside parents who dream of seeing their kids advance to the glory and riches of the NHL. Parental antics from the stands can reach proportions so outrageous that referees have taken to ordering the worst offenders outside.
Video game makers don’t help. NHL 14, the latest version of the hit video game franchise by EA Canada in Vancouver, features an “enforcer engine” that promises to produce “the most authentic and electrifying fighting experience” in the history of the title.
The NHL has taken halting steps to respond to some of the worst violence. But with the speed of pro hockey today, more has to be done to protect vulnerable players — and those who strive to take their places at the top of the game.