Weekly Links: Reactions to the NHL outdoor games at Dodger and Yankee Stadiums; Gino Odjick talks about fighting and health issues; demographic info on NHL fans

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers. Please check out some of the great writing that is happening in the hockey media and blogosphere!

  • The NHL hosted another of its Stadium Series outdoor games last weekend, but this time the game took place in the unlikely setting of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The Anaheim Ducks beat the host Kings 3-0, but the game was seen (aside from a massive revenue generator for the NHL) as a celebration of hockey in California – as the sport has grown immensely there since the early 1990s. Jen Neale, a California native, has an overview of the event from this perspective… [Puck Daddy]
  • … while Sean McIndoe offers the viewpoint of a (humorously) skeptical Canadian journalist. [Grantland]
  • Meanwhile, Travis Hughes captures the atmosphere at the Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium, played between the New York Rangers and Islanders. [SB Nation]

Read more of this post

The New York Islanders, the Barclays Center, and the politics of sport arenas: Winners and losers in the “Battle for Brooklyn”

The New York Islanders are moving to Brooklyn. When the Islanders faceoff in their first game of the 2014-15 2015-16 NHL season, it will mark an exciting day for the franchise as the team celebrates its move to a new arena in a new part of town. What Islanders players and fans may not know is that the opening faceoff will be taking place on the exact spot where, less than 10 years earlier, former Brooklyn residents lived before being forcibly evicted by the State of New York to allow a billionaire to construct the Barclays Center.

While fans of the Islanders may celebrate the end of constant discussions about the future of the Islanders, and while owner Charles Wang may welcome the possibility of expanding his team’s brand into the hip and gentrifying borough of Brooklyn, it is also important to consider the politics behind this move and the arena that the Islanders will now be calling home. This post examines the history of the Barclays Center, and the social movement of Brooklyn residents who tried, but failed, to save their homes and businesses from being seized to construct the arena, in light of the political significance of professional sport in the borough.

Read more of this post

Weekly Links: More reviews of Theoren Fleury documentary; Fallout from Ron Maclean’s 9/11 comments; New media and hockey fandom

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers.

Hockey Links

  • Last weekend I reviewed Theo Fleury: Playing With Fire. This week, a few more reviews of the film have come out. [Backhand Shelf; Globe and Mail]
  • Ellen Etchingham sees a critical role for on-ice officiating in cracking down on dangerous play in hockey and argues that refereeing, not supplemental discipline, needs to be more prominent in changing the culture of the sport. [Backhand Shelf]
  • Insightful and disturbing article by Sean Gordon about the prominence of prescription drugs in NHL hockey, often seen by players as a necessary way of coping with the grueling schedule and travel required of them. [Globe and Mail]
  • Ron Maclean has drawn considerable flak for comparing Washington Capitals and New York Rangers players to the firefighters and cops who responded on 9/11. He has issued a clarifying statement, but the controversy lingers. [Puck Daddy; Backhand Shelf]
  • Very interesting fan movement that aims to track the popularity of Twitter amongst hockey users in order to refute the idea, put forward by ESPN’s Senior VP, that hockey is not part of “a national discussion” in the United States. [Queen Crash, via Not Another Hockey Blog]
  • Speaking of Twitter, Justin Bourne thinks that the tongue-in-cheek tweets from the Los Angeles Kings’ account may point the way toward NHL teams’ new media future. [Backhand Shelf]
  • Interesting news from the IIHF World Championships being co-hosted by Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland: high ticket prices have dissuaded spectators from attending games, and organizers have been forced to slash ticket prices in response. [Puck Worlds]
  • Brian Burke, GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, will attend an anti-homophobia flag-raising outside Toronto City Hall. Rob Ford, Toronto’s mayor, will not. [Globe and Mail]
  • James Mirtle on the rise of shot-blocking as a defensive tactic in the NHL playoffs. [Globe and Mail]
  • Interesting post that touches on a wide variety of issues in hockey, including violence, masculinity, corporate interests, and legacy/heroism [Vintage Leaf Memories]
  • Greg Wyshynksi reports that some Philadelphia Flyers fans are suing the team over their ticket policy for the Winter Classic. It is an interesting case of fans vs. teams and access to and cost of tickets. [Puck Daddy]

General Sport Links

  • Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, has a provocative editorial about why NCAA football should be eliminated. [Wall Street Journal]
  • Concerns about fan racism and hooliganism cloud the preparations for the 2012 Euro Cup being held in Poland and Lithuania this summer. [BBC Sport]

Once again, hockey fans take to Twitter to hurl racist abuse at Joel Ward

Sadly, this was one of the less-offensive of the many derogatory tweets about Joel Ward this evening.

Less than two weeks ago, after Joel Ward scored in overtime of Game 7 to lead the Washington Capitals past the Boston Bruins, some hockey fans (many of whom identified as Bruins fans) took to Twitter to hurl racist abuse at the black Canadian forward from Toronto. While many fans of the Bruins and hockey more generally objected vociferously, clearly a significant amount of fans felt completely comfortable deploying racist epitaphs to insult the hockey player.

Tonight, Ward took a devastating penalty for the Capitals when, with just over 20 seconds remaining and the Capitals nursing a 2-1 lead, he high-sticked the New York Rangers’ Carl Hagelin and drew blood. The Rangers scored before the buzzer to send the game to overtime and then, with Ward still serving the second half of his double-minor, won the game on a goal by defenseman Marc Staal.

And then the Twitter racists returned in full force.

[WARNING: STRONG AND OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE APPEARS IN THE FOLLOWING IMAGES]

Read more of this post

Film Review: “Theo Fleury: Playing With Fire” (2011)

Theo Fleury: Playing With Fire is a 2012 documentary that paints an intimate portrait of former NHL player Theoren Fleury. The film, which shares its title with Fleury’s 2009 autobiography Playing With Fire, was screened in Toronto at the Hot Docs film festival, where I watched it on Saturday. Fleury’s story is complex, tragic and inspiring, and the film does a good job of capturing the complex and contradictory aspects of Fleury’s personality.

Fleury achieved NHL stardom with the Calgary Flames in the 1990s, and later played for the Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks. Despite standing just 5’6”, Fleury played with a tenacious determination that won him as many admirers as enemies. While few questioned his hockey abilities, Fleury increasingly became known for erratic and aggressive on-ice actions and a host of off-ice incidents. On multiple occasions Fleury stepped away from the game to participate in the NHL’s substance abuse program, which seeks to help players who struggle with drug and alcohol addictions. In addition to his mental health and addiction struggles, Fleury revealed in 2009 that as a teenager he had been sexually assaulted by Graham James, a former coach in the Western Hockey League who was imprisoned in 1997 for sexually assaulting Sheldon Kennedy.

The film is essentially a North American road trip with Fleury, who provides the filmmakers with tours of key locations in his life: his hometown of Russell, Manitoba; Winnipeg, where he moved to play junior hockey and where he was first assaulted by James; Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where he also played junior hockey under James; Calgary, New York and Chicago, three of the four cities in which he played NHL hockey; and Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lived during some of his worst struggles with mental illness and addiction. Fleury gave the filmmakers intimate access to his life, with the notable exception of his children, whom Fleury did not want included in the film. Some of the film’s strongest moments are when it captures Fleury philosophizing or moralizing based upon his recollections of his life and his ongoing experiences. Read more of this post

Herb Carnegie, Hockey Legacies, and the Lingering Effects of Institutional Racism

On Friday March 9, 2012, Herb Carnegie passed away in a Toronto nursing home. He was 92 years old.

Carnegie’s name is likely not a familiar one to all but the most dedicated hockey fans and scholars of the sport’s history. Carnegie is known primarily for what he did not do – play in the National Hockey League – and for why he did not do it. Despite impressive hockey skills and some excellent seasons in Quebec’s Provincial and Senior hockey leagues (QPHL and QSHL), Carnegie never got the opportunity to play in the NHL. It is all but a certainty that Carnegie, who was a black Canadian of Jamaican heritage, would have played in the NHL if not for his skin colour.

At the peak of Carnegie’s hockey career, when he played for the Sherbrooke Saints of the QPHL and centred the “Black Aces” line (a non-too-subtle reference to the skin colour of Carnegie and his linemates), no black player had ever played in the NHL. Carnegie appears to have been skilled enough to make the league, with Toronto Maple Leafs’ owner Conn Smythe reportedly declaring that he would “give $10,000 to anyone who can turn Herb Carnegie white.” In 1948, Carnegie attended the New York Rangers’ training camp. David Davis, who penned a story about Carnegie’s life in Friday’s New York Times, writes that:

During the first week of camp, [Carnegie] said, the Rangers offered a contract with their minor league club in Tacoma, Wash. He turned it down. A day later, he received an offer to play for their team in St. Paul. He declined. Then came a third offer: to report to New Haven of the American Hockey League, just below the N.H.L.

Carnegie was 28, with a wife, three children and a fourth on the way. He could not afford to take a pay cut.

“It was hard for me to demean myself to take a pee-wee salary when I was worth a senior salary,” he said.

Carnegie believed that he had earned a spot on the Rangers.

“I was as good as the most talented player,” he said. “I was stopped by the color barrier.”

He never got another opportunity.

It was not until 10 years later, in 1958, that Willie O’Ree would finally break the NHL’s colour barrier with the Boston Bruins. Read more of this post

Weekly Links: Gender Disparities in Media Coverage of Hockey Injuries; Winter Classic Alumni Game Participants Don’t Get Paid; Are the Montreal Canadiens Still Relevant?

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers.

Hockey Links

  • Detroit native E. Martin Nolan had a busy week! In addition to his post considering the Toronto Maple Leafs as a public institution, he also wrote this great piece criticizing the (likely) possibility that the 2013 Winter Classic – featuring the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs – will take place at Michigan University in Ann Arbor instead of in Detroit. [E. Martin Nolan]
  • Dr. Nicole LaVoi, a Professor at University of Minnesota and associate director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, critiques the disparity in media attention given to severe injuries suffered in separate incidents by high school hockey players Jack Jablonski (male) and Jenna Privette (female). [MPR News]
  • And Chris Peters offers a rebuttal to LaVoi’s piece. [United States of Hockey]
  • I am working my way through the many excellent posts on A Theory of Ice. The most recent that I have thoroughly enjoyed is a critical look at the World Junior Championships and the effect that it has on the teenage boys who are the tournament’s stars. [Theory of Ice]
  • Puck Buddys is running a series of interviews with “Zach” – a gay high school hockey player in the US – about his experiences in youth and high school hockey. Parts 1 & 2 have so far been posted. [Puck Buddys: Part 1; Part 2]
  • Gare Joyce wrote a lengthy piece about the decline of the Montreal Canadiens’ relevance that, despite its flaws, points out some of the complexities of the team and its social/cultural significance in Quebec. [Sportsnet]
  • Speaking of those flaws… well, Canadiens fans were quick to critique Joyce and, in the process, produced a number of excellent posts that both take down Joyce’s arguments and provide some fascinating insight into some of the nuances that he glosses over. [Habs Eyes on the Prize; A Theory of Ice]
  • The alumni game between former members of the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers that preceded the Winter Classic drew over 45,000 spectators and generated a reported $4 million in profit. Players were not paid beyond airfare and accommodation. In other words, as the always insightful Justin Bourne puts it, they “got completely and utterly hosed.” [Backhand Shelf; Puck Daddy]
  • It is easy sometimes to forget that sports injuries have serious ramifications in everyday for more than simply the injured player. Lauren Pronger, wife of Philadelphia Flyer Chris, reminds us that the effect of injury spreads far beyond the arena. [SB Nation]
  • Ken Dryden writes about headshots and concussions, and wants to see more “fight” (as in tenacity within the rules) and less “fighting” (as in pugilism and dangerous checks). [Grantland]
  • Great post by Travis Hughes about pirated internet streams of hockey games and how the NHL’s policy of blacking out local games in its online package may be driving fans to these illegal feeds. [SB Nation]
  • Justin Bourne consider what “we” means to hockey players, in terms of the team, the fans and the media. Interesting stuff about identity around professional sports teams. [Backhand Shelf]
  • Interesting infographic showing how the camera placement in sports arenas that TV networks use to get their game action shots. The representative hockey infographic is for Joe Louis Arena, the home of the Detroit Red Wings. [Puck the Media]
  • Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has won an award for his activism in support of gay rights. [The Star]
  • Crime fiction meets hockey in The Code, the debut novel of sportswriter Gare Joyce. [Globe and Mail]
  •  On the 54th anniversary of his NHL debut, a look at the career and life of Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the league. [Puck Daddy]
  • A positive review of the upcoming movie Goon, that is somewhat of a counterpoint to Courtney Szto’s post about the film. [Jerseys and Hockey Love]
  • After a hazing incident that involved teenagers getting drunk and being forced to cross-dress, a Michigan high school hockey coach is fired. Except, according to the coach, it wasn’t hazing: “”It’s not hazing,” Montrose told WDIV. “This is something like a right of passage. . . . It’s more like team building.””  [Prep Rally]

General Sport Links

  • I definitely recommend that you check out York University PhD student Nathan Kalman-Lamb’s new blog. In this post he looks at the Penn State scandal and examines where the blame should be placed. [Nathan Kalman-Lamb]
  • Why reform of the flawed NCAA system is unlikely. [Inside Higher Education]

The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer: Five Critical Issues Raised by the New York Times’ Series on Derek Boogaard

If you have not yet read John Branch’s New York Times series on former NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard, it should immediately jump to the top of your reading list. Boogaard passed away this past summer from an accidental overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills. In a compelling and upsetting three-part series, Branch offers a detailed narrative of Boogaard’s life and tragic death and links this individual story up to broader social and cultural issues in hockey.

Five issues stood out to me from Branch’s reporting, and I discuss each of these below. As what follows is a particularly long post, here is a brief outline of the five issues I discuss:

  1. This story is not really about Derek Boogaard
  2. The social pressures to fight start as a teenager
  3. Many players  abandon other career/life possibilities to pursue the dream of pro hockey
  4. Fighting takes an extremely damaging physical and mental toll
  5. The structures of junior and professional hockey are complicit in the damage caused by fighting

I strongly urge you to read Branch’s excellent articles, but I hope also that you find my commentary on his brilliant reporting to be interesting and of value. After the jump, my thoughts on five of the key issues raised by Branch: Read more of this post

Weekly Links: The Violent Life and Tragic Death of Derek Boogaard; Debating Mandatory Visors; Arena Politics

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers.

Hockey Links

  • If you have not seen it, please check out the New York Times series on the life and death of former enforcer Derek Boogaard. It is a brilliant yet harrowing look inside the life of an NHL enforcer, tracing his life from early childhood through junior hockey and the NHL. It is a three-part series (not including the accompanying videos) that is getting some Pulitzer hype. Well worth reading if you care at all about fighting in hockey. I am working on a post on this topic that will hopefully go up this weekend. [New York Times]
  • There has been lots of reaction to the Times story this week, including questioning the role of fighting and the reaction of players (it is “part of the price we pay”).  [Leader-Post; Globe and Mail; Sportsnet]
  • Roy MacGregor with a harsh critique of the NHL for continuing to allow fighting in hockey. [Globe and Mail]
  • Hockey Wilderness, a blog for Boogaard’s former team the Minnesota Wild, wonders why there has been little rage amongst fans as a result of the Times‘ revelations. [Hockey Wilderness]
  • Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Post gives the background to how the Times got access to the story. [Minneapolis Post]
  • Grantland pulls up a 1989 interview conducted with Red Wings enforcer Joey Kocur. Extremely fascinating, and at times upsetting, stuff. And another story to add to the growing list of hockey fighters’ narratives. [Grantland, via Kukla's Corner]
  • In a show of poor taste and even poorer timing, sports card company In the Game is releasing a set of hockey cards focused on fighters and featuring bloodstained cards. [Puck Daddy]
  • A month ago, Courtney Szto weighed in on mandatory visors. This week, an anonymous NHLer/blogger gave a players take on the issue. [Puck Daddy]
  • Forbes released its annual Business of Hockey feature, highlighting that franchise values are now at their all-time peak. Distribution is not so equitable though: the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, and Montreal Canadiens earn greater profits than the other 27 teams combined. [Forbes]
  • The NHL won the 2011 Sport for the Environment Award for its efforts not to waste food at arenas, this diverting waste from landfills. I do not say this often, but congratulations NHL. [NHL.com]
  • Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff with a great quote about NHL suspensions: “I understand with a phone hearing the max you’re going to get is [a five-game suspension]. In my eyes, is that a big message? . . . I look at the NFL and I look at the Detroit Lion [Ndamukong Suh] that got two games for a 6-inch kick. He got kicked out of the game, and then that amounted to one-eighth of our season. That’s a 10-game suspension. I think they do it right. The message there is we’re not putting up with this stuff. I think we need a strong message. Is five strong enough? I don’t know.” [Sabres Edge]
  • Interesting post about the politics of arena construction in the Ontario Hockey League. [Buzzing the Net]

Other Sport Links

  • Whenever you hear assertions about the benefits of publicly subsidizing sports arenas, take them with a grain of salt. [Boing Boing]
  • Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan has raised some hackles by suggesting that he wishes he could skate for China, the country of his parents’ birth, because Canada does not support its amateur athletes well enough. [Winnipeg Free Press]
  • The UFC is promoting anti-bullying initiatives to schoolchildren. The Globe offers an editorial rebuttal to this somewhat surprising partnership. [Globe and Mail]
  • Chuck Klosterman with a very interesting article about the polarizing love/hate reaction to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. [Grantland; h/t to Graham for the link]

The Unbearable Lightness of Sean Avery

Sean Avery has transformed before our very eyes. From the tough guy, bad boy of the NHL, known for his cheap shots, on-ice antics, and off-ice dalliances with femme fatales – and provocations of the masculinity of other NHLers in comparison to his own – Avery has somehow turned into a Renaissance man: fashion intern, cultural critic and gay rights activist.

That last title is not insignificant, as his public support for gay marriage in the state of New York ostensibly parallels broader shifts in North American pro sports towards the combating of homophobia. As leagues like the NHL and NFL and even the NCAA speak out about the inappropriateness of anti-gay rhetoric and in-game slurs, Avery seems now to have been ahead of the curve. Or at least leading the pack, a pack still populated by some dunder-headed bigots who don’t read LZ Granderson or know what John Amaechi is doing for the forthcoming London Olympics in 2012.

It’s been a fascinating metamorphosis for the Rangers provocateur. Avery, seemingly over night, has somehow come to represent the inevitable enlightenment of pro sports, where the last bastions of masculinity are now beginning to realize the error of their homophobic ways and come to understand that even the rink is off limits when you wish you had just one last place to drop an f-bomb. (The three letter kind, not the four).

This all apparently came to a head this week when Wayne Simmonds of the Flyers allegedly tossed a homophobic slur at Avery during a pre-season game. Simmonds, while not formally punished by the NHL, came under significant criticism almost immediately, and certainly ironically, afterwards. (Ironically because Simmonds himself was still in the middle of dealing with his own nasty experiences with hatred after a banana was thrown at him during a game. Simmonds is Black. Avery, we assume, is not gay).

This incident – the gender one, not the race one – offered the NHL an important chance to show off its progressive bona fides. Leading the charge was Leafs GM Brian Burke – he who values ‘truculence’ and stay at home defencemen in the most old school of ways – to opine that such name-calling has ‘no place in the game.’ Burke’s late son Brendan, of course, was involved in high-level hockey while being out of the closet, a truly important combination, and not one with many other parallel examples in the game.

Which is really the part of all of this that smacks of so much disingenuousness. When Burke makes such statements, is he talking about the game of hockey today? The same one that I watch? I would argue that homophobia does still have a place in the game and is still part of the culture. At the very least, it remains a yardstick by which men mark the boundaries and territories of what professional sports like hockey are and are not, and who is in and out, literally or otherwise.

(What evidence is there of this, you ask? I clearly don’t have anything irrefutable but try this: while it’s not the most representative of samples, take a browse through the ‘thoughts’ posted by espn.com readers in response to Burke’s comments. And then tell me homophobia isn’t accepted in sports culture anymore).

My frustration isn’t with Burke per se. Burke’s comments are nothing but laudable, not only given his family history, but also in the broader cultural struggle to deconstruct homophobia and circumvent the manufactured fear of gay people. In fact, I would argue that Burke’s comments are particularly courageous given the continued intractability of hetero-normativity in professional sports. What I take issue with is the general sneakiness that seems to accompany what we’ve been and are being sold by organizations like the NHL: that there’s no place for homophobia in their sport when everything I understand and observe about NHL hockey tells me that its still often business as usual in the day to day sexual politics of the league. I’m not an insider, granted. But I also have seen little evidence that would make me think that Simmonds’ slur at Avery was an aberration. (Neither, it must be mentioned, was the less than subtle assertion of hockey as a White sport that was so neatly and thoroughly represented in the banana toss).

Which brings us back to Sean Avery. If Avery has decided he is in a position to make a stand about homophobia in hockey, he is to be commended. We should all support any anti-homophobia action he is willing to take (while remembering, perhaps, his knack for finding the spotlight). But regardless of what Avery – or Burke – actually does or says or endures on or off the ice, it would be a mistake to conclude that these men represent the inexorable and universal march towards sexual and gender equality within the culture of hockey. Let’s hope this is in fact happening. But I can’t shake the feeling that it hasn’t happened yet, and certainly not with the transparency and clairvoyance of the NHL’s preferred narrative. There is much work to be done.

Indeed, until the NHL itself ‘comes out’ and acknowledges the presence and rootedness of homophobia, and details a plan to combat it, Avery will seem pretty light to me. And he’s likely to keep being called a ‘fuckin’ fag’ in the meantime.