Hockey violence and the 2012 NHL playoffs: Why a moral panic won’t change the NHL’s cultural tolerance of violence
April 23, 2012 8 Comments
There has been no shortage of ink spilled in the past weeks about the surprising and upsetting levels of violence that have characterized the 2012 NHL playoffs thus far – including insightful posts from Hockey in Society’s E. Martin Nolan about psychosocial understandings of hockey violence and the fantastical nature of “hatred” between players.
NHL VP of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan has certainly been a busy man during these playoffs, handing down suspensions to eight players and fining two other players. The standard of discipline has varied wildly, with Shea Weber getting just a $2,500 fine for slamming Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the boards and Raffi Torres receiving a 25-game suspension for a leaping hit that sent Marian Hossa off the ice on a stretcher. The level of violence, which to most observers seems unusually high even for the emotionally-charged playoff season, has created a moral panic about the state of hockey and an unsurprising bevy of counterarguments from entrenched interests in the sport. At the same time, television ratings have soared in spite (or because) of the on-ice violence.
While I sympathize with the crusaders at the vanguard of the moral panic, my optimism about their ability to fundamentally alter NHL hockey is limited. As this post will explore, the NHL has a tightly controlled and insular culture that militates against outside interference. While some influential media members may hold some sway in the NHL boardrooms, it is hard not to see the league swatting away much of the outrage with minimal damage to its brand or popular integrity.