Visors – An evolution of manhood

Image from Vancouver Sun

Image from patmarsdenfoundation.com

There are two major reasons cited for not making visors mandatory in the NHL. Reason #1 – because it is player preference and reason #2 – the visor makes the helmet that much harder to pop off and thus would curtail hockey fights. I do not write this blog to sway players or fans to either side of the argument but rather to reflect on what the visor represents in the world of hockey and the evolution of a player.

 All children who start playing hockey must wear a full face cage or shield.  There is no debate on this whatsoever. Children and their innocence must be protected! So from day one, every player who has made it the NHL has done so by learning the fundamentals of the game wearing a full cage or shield.  Some years down the road the select few who make it to major junior hockey are allowed to move to the half shield/visor.  Oddly enough, the visor is worn in adolescence of age as well as in adolescence of hockey development. You are not yet a professional but you are on your way to being one (you are not yet a man but you are on your way to being one).  You still need protection at this stage but you are also gaining some freedom. Hence the visor represents a curfew, if you will, a way of letting you experience life but still under the watchful eye of guardians.  It provides a fresh perspective and a peace of mind that if needed you will have someone (or something) protecting you.

Chris Pronger - Photo from pokerpurist.com

Finally, you are drafted to the NHL and voila - your transition into hockey manhood is complete, that is once you get rid of the visor.  The visor is the last bastion of protection for the face and of your youth because now that you are in the big leagues you literally have to face the world head on and, ideally, without anything between you and your opponent. Nothing to distort the pain or rewards that life has to offer.  As a man, one is expected to take responsibility for his dealings, in other words, if someone clips you in the face with his stick then you should “tough it out” and deal with the consequences.  A lack of visor represents freedom, independence and both mental and physical fortitude. Metaphorically, you are free from the watchful parental eyes and it’s time to branch out on your own.

Every professional player has had to travel this road, so I find the argument of player preference odd because it was never a choice before the NHL.  The visor represents so much more than preference or eye protection, it represents paying one’s dues, going through the system, evolution and arrival. It illustrates a shift from innocence to uncensored reality.  So you see, the discussion of “to visor or not to visor” is far more complex than player preference and audience excitement.  When you think of it as an evolution of the player, I think we can all understand why some would choose to go sans visor, or to keep with the metaphor move away from mom and dad (or dad/dad, mom/mom, grandpa/grandma etc.). Therefore, in order to sway public and player opinion on the visor issue is really more a question of how do we alter the evolution of a player to include or accept a preservation of innocence well into adulthood?

*Please note that women’s hockey has no option of player preference and every woman who has competed in the game has done so wearing full face protection. Read what you will into the stage of growth, or lack thereof, for women’s hockey based on the cage/full face shield alone.  We make no qualms about protecting women from the reality of pain, which although is not necessarily equitable treatment I think in this case was the wise decision. So why are men spared from this type of protection?  Is it because they handle pain better than women (before you answer that think child birth) or is it because society has arbitrarily decided that men and women should experience sport (and life) differently?  As few choices we think women have I think it is time to address how few choices men actually have.  Men are often sold an illusion of choice, where very few actually exist.

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About courtneyszto
I am a Vancouver Canucks fan through and through. I have worked in event management, outdoor education, the golf industry, and coached tennis. Currently, I am a PhD student in Communications at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. My research focuses on the Punjabi-Sikh experience with hockey in Canada. Other research interests include: corporate social responsibility, (ethical) consumption, gender, race, sport for development and peace, and media studies. I write for my own blog, The Rabbit Hole, and occasionally contribute to Interrupt Magazine. I also created and manage the social media account @offsideplays that works to expose everyday experiences with discrimination in sport, physical activity and health.

10 Responses to Visors – An evolution of manhood

  1. Jeff Ing says:

    It’s an interesting read, but I think you’re reading a bit too much between the lines. I don’t have any statistics in front of me, so it may be all perspective, but it seems to me like more and more players in the NHL are wearing visors. I was watching a Leaf game the other day, and I thought it was interesting that only 3 players dressed for the Leafs were sans visor. (Connolly, Brown, Komisarek) I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Leafs are one of the younger teams in the NHL either.

    Yes, it is a evolution of sorts to be given the option to wear the visor once players reach the NHL, but I see less and less players dropping the visors once they turn pro. It seems that given the choice, younger pros are choosing to stick with the facial protection. Does this mean that the next generation of players are rejecting growing up and becoming “real men” and clinging onto their adolescence? Does it mean that young star players who still wear their visors haven’t “arrived”? I doubt it.

    Addressing player preference, I wear a visor, but I hate it. It does affect your peripheral vision and it tends to fog up at the most inconvenient times. I’m not a millionaire high skill player either, so if it bugs me, I can only imagine how much it would affect someone of a higher skill level who plays the game at a much much faster pace.

    I think player preference is the only real reason to keep visors optional. I don’t buy the argument that visors remain optional because of fighting in hockey. There are many players in the league who don’t shy away from fisticuffs and wear a visor. Furthermore, the NHL is the only league where visors aren’t mandatory, but you won’t have to look hard to find a fight in any CHL, AHL, or KHL game.

    As for your final question about preserving innocence into adulthood, I don’t think there’s much innocence left to lose in some players after a few years in youth hockey. Unfortunately, there’s too many stories of antics going on in junior and minor hockey teams. That’s an entirely different issue tho…

    • anomonis says:

      visors help protect the eyes and unlike the cages, NHL players get ton of injuries from pucks flying into there face. but visors allow you to see and get more protection than nothing. the cages are not good you cant see they make the helmet so heavy it would slow the game down. and it would completely ban fights. thats why i think NHL playersrs should be forced to wear visors but not cages.

  2. courtneyszto says:

    Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for commenting. Yes I agree with you that younger players like Hodgson and Nugent-Hopkins seem to be keeping the visor on. I realize that I don’t explicitly state this in the post, but I was writing as more of a reflection on Don Cherry’s (and other more conservative) views on the visor. Thinking back on scenarios where players have taunted Crosby for wearing a visor and him attempting a period of no-visor is an event that I think speaks volumes to the significance and symbolism that the visor still has amongst the old guard. Also, important to note is that when it comes down to dollars and performance the “choice” of safety often comes in second because if wearing a visor alters your vision and you lose out on 10 goals a year that’s a big financial hit.

    As for my comment on innocence, let’s say we swap out the word innocence for safety – does that change things? That’s basically what the NHL is saying, safety is an individual choice rather than a collective agreement. The players ARE the sport so in the interest of protecting your investments why isn’t safety job #1? Same with neck guards. They are all freak accidents, skates to the neck and deflected pucks to the eyes, but when we have the power to make sure they don’t happen why do we choose individual performance over collective safety?

    Anyways, yes, it will be interesting to see how the trend of visors or not evolves in the next decade or so, and with it how the expectation of being a hockey player morphs.

  3. Jeff Ing says:

    Hi Courtney,

    I do agree with you that the visor still carries a certain stigma with a certain crowd of hockey enthusiasts. However, as you implied, I think this is more of a old fashioned way of thinking. As more players enter the league and opt to keep their visors on, it will become harder and harder to question the toughness and manhood of players. While I don’t think Crosby needed to take the visor off for a period to show how tough he was, I think it dealt a huge blow to those that argue players who don’t wear visors are tougher in that the player who was challenging him (I forget who it was) refused to fight him even after Crosby lost the shield. I’m sure it wasn’t what was going through his mind at the time, but in my mind, that was the effect it had.

    Also, I have to disagree with safety becoming a secondary concern it comes to performance. If someone truly didn’t feel comfortable without a visor, I think it would affect their performance more than a player being forced to wear a visor and it affecting their vision. Hockey isn’t a sport where you can be tentative or play scared. At the NHL level, the game is much too fast to be hesitant.

    I wouldn’t be opposed to the NHL making visors mandatory, but while it is an option for the players, I don’t think players who don’t wear visors should be criticized. I personally believe that no one in the NHL is not wearing a visor because they feel they need to prove how tough they are. I think visors are going to follow a similar path of adoption that helmets did in the 70s and 80s.

  4. courtneyszto says:

    I would love to see visors (and full cages for that matter) grandfathered in like helmets. As for safety, Lilja says that he wants to wear a visor but it affects his performance and therefore, does not. A desire to wear one but he chooses performance over his safety, and he can’t be the only one. Fact is a visor was designed to protect the eyes and wearing a visor IS safer than not wearing one, regardless of how safe players feel. And yes the game is fast, all the more reason to take advantage of all of the safety equipment that is available to you.

    Also, your mention of visors being mandatory in the CHL, AHL and KHL I think is even more ammunition for the fact that player preference is irrelevant and that NHL marketing is probably more of the issue.

  5. If you haven’t seen them, the three visor-related links I posted on Oct 28 are pretty interesting on this topic. Also, Puck Daddy had a piece this morning that mentioned injuries/close calls to players with or without visors (I believe that Dan Paille was hurt in spite of the visor, whereas Drew Doughty avoided injury because of it).

    I agree with points from both of you. Courtney, I think you’re spot on in linking visors to a tough-guy image and, of course, the converse in which a visor is regarded as (potentially) effeminate. But I agree with Jeff that this culture seems to be changing amongst players, as the visor becomes more acceptable amongst young players, some of whom are very skilled and very tough (e.g. Jarome Iginla, who isn’t even that young). That being said, Courtney you are right that there is still very much a vocal “old guard” that clings to traditional understandings of masculinity within hockey. However, there are enough progressive calls to action on a variety of issues right now to give me hope that the Don Cherry’s of this world – while still prominent voices – are losing their sway on issues of player safety such as visors.

    Personally, I would love to see the NHL grandfather in visors in the same way they did helmets. This is among the most clear cut of options to my mind, as unlike rules around hitting it makes virtually no difference to how the game is played. The old school, visor-less guys can keep their shields and newcomers will play the way they grew up playing – with facial protection. However, as one of the links I mentioned points out, the league cannot do this without the blessing of the NHLPA.

  6. courtneyszto says:

    You know what I find really strange about this whole visor thing now that it has been marinating in my mind for the past week. That no other sport (that I can think of) do you wear less or alter your equipment as you move into the pros. Football – same helmet, same gear. Can you image removing the facemask when you get to the NFL because you can see better without it? Lacrosse – welcome to the NLL, you may now choose to remove the cage. So what is so special about hockey?

  7. Paul Walker says:

    Hi Courtney

    I read this article with great interest. In regards to your last comment, I see parallels with Rugby in the England/UK. The RFU strongly ‘recommend’ that mouthguards are worn for any contact rugby sessions; however, it is not mandatory at a senior level. But mouthguards are compulsory for all school players involved in rugby activities above school level (County, Division and England Representative Squads). Similar to Jeff’s comments about the visor hindering performance, I often found that wearing a mouthguard hindered me when playing rugby. Having said that, it was drilled into me from a young age, by my coaches and parents that I should always wear a mouthguard and that’s what I did and continue to do! When I was a junior, senior players didn’t wear mouthguards as this wasn’t the ‘norm’.

    Although it’s not compulsory for seniors to wear mouth guards now, I think you’d struggle to find a player who doesn’t wear one in the English Premier league, in fact, it seems that controversy is more about wearing sponsored mouthguards as opposed to not wearing one at all (Tuilagi was fined by the IRB for wearing a sponsored mouthguard at this year’s RWC).

    Seems to me that rugby followed the pressure of convention (and safety), as the younger generation came through and started to play pro- the mouthguard followed in suit. Judging by the comments made by Jeff and Mark, Hockey could possibly be following in the same vein- it just takes time.

    • courtneyszto says:

      Hi Paul,
      Thanks for commenting and I think, and hope, you are right. Times are changing, the game should too. It is interesting though that changes like this have to come from the players rather than from the governing body, especially when safety is concerning one would think it would be the other way around.

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