Hockey fan or parent; can I be both?

Dave Banks with Wired magazine posted an open letter to the NHL, commenting on the level of violence displayed in the most recent games, but also showcasing the deterioration of the sport over time. It’s a great letter; read it.

As expected, it gets a flurry on online comments of both supportive and opposing viewpoints. It’s a familiar discussion; one that hockey fans—truly dedicated and bandwagon jumpers—have been having for years. After all, as a Canadian, hockey is in our blood. No question, though; hockey brings out the Neanderthals in droves.

People still argue that fighting and violence is simply part of the sport; always has been. They claim that it’s a rough game and it’s what spectators want, so those who suggest otherwise should stay out of the discussion. The insinuation that because we oppose the violence we clearly have no experience with the game is a weak argument, and often outright wrong.

However, the most disturbing comments are the ones that belittle parents, suggesting we also turn off the evening news, bubble wrap our “precious little snowflakes”, and pretend that war doesn’t occur, all to protect our children from the evil horror stories of the real world. One person said hockey violence teaches children that life is unfair. This is as silly as it is insulting. These people are bullies.

There is a huge difference between true chaos and violence (to which we also limit our young children’s exposure) and the goon’d up manufactured violence that is taking over as sports entertainment. The following was my comment on the Wired post, and it serves well here, too:

Hockey is an exciting, physical sport. It moves at a fast pace, demanding individual skill and teamwork with quick changes from offense to defense and back again. Contact is part of the sport—an inevitable part of the game—and the players are trained how to use their whole body during plays.

But there is a huge difference between the skill of body-checking and the violence we are witnessing today. The all-out assault on players isn’t the sport; it’s a determined effort to debilitate the opponent to weaken their capacity. And it’s gone too far. Highly skilled players—players who showcase the best of hockey skills—are being sidelined with potentially life changing injuries at the expense of those who insist that blind aggression is “just part of the game”. The violence is not teaching kids that life can be unfair; it’s teaching them that life is dangerous, and raw violence—not skills—will be celebrated.

Yes. Parents want to protect children from evils of the world. We also want to make sure our kids are able to see the sport played well, played fairly and played hard by some of the best in the world. Hockey is a tough game, but it’s not an evil game. Violent retaliation isn’t part of the sport. Fighting isn’t part of the sport, no matter how many times you say it.  (end)

Being involved with minor hockey as a young boy, and now as a dad, I am witness to more than my share of the sheer stupidity of parent (both moms & dads, friends & fans) who celebrate the violence with more enthusiasm than they do for a strong play. It’s to the point that those involved with teams are required to take special training to address the issue. The game is amazing, but the raw violence has gotten out of hand. Sport is not a war; the goal isn’t to wipe out the opponent. The point is to out-play the opponent today, and try to do it again tomorrow.

I know the business argument of professional sports clouds the issue. NHL hockey is sport as entertainment, and the revenues rule decisions. But the ‘stay-out-of-my-sport-if-you-don’t-like-it’ goon mentality is selfish and myopic, not to mention naive. Beyond an economic driver, sport serves a role in community and society. We owe it to our children to protect the skill and excellence of a game well played from the lowest common denominator of violence as a means-to-an-end in any situation, where only the winner walks away.

We owe this to our kids at every level of the game, from Timbits™ to All-Stars. We’re not only protecting the game, we just might be protecting their lives.

This entry was posted in Sports, That's Not Right, Values and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Hockey fan or parent; can I be both?

  1. Matches says:

    Why are adults constantly being told they have to change stuff they like for “the children”? Why are YOUR children entitled to anything from the rest of us? Why can’t YOU handle the responsibility of YOUR children and leave everyone else out of it? It’s up to YOU to raise YOUR children, not your neighbors, not me, and not the NHL. And of course, anyone who doesn’t buy into your whining is a “goon” and a “bully.” What a great example you set for YOUR poor children.

    • Stephen Abbott says:

      Thanks for the comment, but I think you miss the point. The intentional violence in professional hockey—a game I’ve been watching for over 40 yrs—has escalated well beyond what is acceptable for the sport, regardless of whether a kid is watching. Plenty of adults are tired of it, too, and feel the game is being reduced to a spectacle of fighting rather than hockey skill; skating, stick-handling, shooting, and yes, body checking. That’s all we’re saying, and many of us struggle to share the experience with our kids—young kids who grow up to be future players, but today play the sport in the community and can get full season suspension for far less.

      I do handle the responsibility to my child; we get to have great conversations about real values, the impact of violence & adrenaline & anger management, and the value of healthy competition. So I put the question back to you; why do people who believe hockey has sifted too far away from the great game it was (and is, often still) automatically get accused of whining or being a sissy? I think I know the answer—it’s what bullies say.

      • Matches says:

        Dismissing your point isn’t the same as “missing” it. You claim the violence is beyond what is acceptable for the sport, but that clearly isn’t the case. The sport is doing fine. It’s YOU that has a problem. You’re no authority on what is or is not acceptable for a business in which you have no actual stake.

        And no one said that everyone who would like to see less fighting is whining. Just YOU. Once again, you put responsibility for your words, just like your actions, on others. Thanks for knocking out my Logical Fallacy Bingo card so quickly, though.

    • Stephen Abbott says:

      Matches, you’re welcome to dismiss my point. And your statement that it’s my problem is correct; I have issue with the way the game is changing. That’s why I posted a comment on my blog. And I am happy to debate the issue, which is why I share my comments.

      But when you say I am the only one who as this problem, you undermine your credibility while still not making a point I can respect. Did you read the Wired article—a dad writing about a dad’s perspective on a dad-centric blog—and the comments, which is the source for my blog post? I am not the only hockey fan who is concerned. I’ve read 4 sports analyst’s articles in the past two days, each echoing a concern with the league’s weak stance on the growing violence in the game. So it’s not just wimpy parents. The head coach of Columbus called the refereeing “a disgrace” following a crippling hit by Torres on Hossa—a trademark hit that had another key player off to the hospital. So you see, I am not the only one who has an opinion.

      Attacking my opinion because it’s my opinion, and because it conflicts with your opinion, doesn’t defend why the escalating level of aggressive violence should remain in the sport of hockey. I am not saying we should eliminate all contact and pad the boards with pillows; I am simply asking for the people who claim to love the game to also respect the game, and the health of those who want to play it well.

      Finally, the reason it’s difficult as a parent isn’t because too violent to watch. It’s because the professional league has said violence is a problem, and associations that promote the sport to young players insist from day one that sportsmanship matters. But the reality is that brutal violence is becoming game strategy; it’s celebrated and rewarded. The adults are blatantly lying, and that is hard to explain. You know, as a parent.

  2. Jessica says:

    OMG “Matches” You’ve got some isues. Start by loosing your aggressiveness. You should be a little more open minded about other people’s opinions and maybe more respectful? You just proved the author’s point. You are just another bully who doesn’t look at the facts. According to what you are saying you do then have the authority on what is acceptable? Funny really.

    • Stephen Abbott says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jessica. Feel free to share your thoughts on this issue (or other blog posts).

  3. Kevin of SportsDadHub says:

    Wow. I’m not sure what I enjoyed reading more – your post or your response to Matches’ craziness. Both are excellent. All three of my boys play hockey. I agree that the increased lack of respect some NHL players have for each other is disturbing. I’m not talking about fighting. I’m talking about gutless acts like vicious headshots and hits from behind.

    I believe that fighting has a place in the game. The only time I don’t like fighting is when there’s really no reason for it. Other than two goons wanting to “go.” I like the fighting aspect when it’s in relation to players sticking up for their teammates. When was the last time a hockey fight resulted in a player missing months playing time because of a concussion? It’s extremely rare. But it seems like once a week we have a player get dropped by a blindsided shoulder or elbow to the head, leading to a concussion.

    I was extremely pleased by the suspension Brendan Shanahan placed on Torres. Hopefully the NHLPA got the message and they address the issue of head shots in the off-season. I’d love to see a suspension system put into place where the offender of a vicious, concussion-inducing hit must sit out the same number of games as the victim of the hit. That would be true justice.

    • Stephen Abbott says:

      Thanks for the comment and support. I like writing the blog posts, but the comments are where the real conversations happen. As much as Matches’ comments were tough to read, it offered a good opportunity to expand the thought. I just wish more people would comment—I know they are reading the post ’cause the numbers are there.

      I think the Torres suspension is a step in the right direction. His record of gutless violence is embarrassing. The Coyotes may just make it to the next round, and he won’t be part of the journey. That has to suck for a true hockey player.

      I’d love to see the suspensions match the recovery time, too. Then add the appropriate suspension period to the end of it, not concurrent. Pretty sure it would put an end to the violence, while keeping the contact that makes the sport interesting.

      I am not a fan of the fights, but I would agree it is part of the culture of the game. And honestly, the level of injury from fights—enough to remove a player from the game—is actually very low.

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