Weekly Links: Shea Weber signing indicates financial disparities between NHL teams; Homophobic hockey reporter gets criticized; Updates on the Jacob Trouba saga

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

  • Shea Weber signed a massive offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers. Adam Proteau examines the disparity between large market teams such as the Flyers and small market teams such as the Nashville Predators. [The Hockey News]
  • Meanwhile, James Mirtle answers the question: “Why [do] NHL teams cry poor despite the league’s record growth?” A very interesting read about the distribution of revenue between teams. [Globe and Mail]
  • Good post comparing Gary Bettman’s rhetorical two-stepping about concussions in hockey with the tobacco industry’s tactics to defend itself against criticism. [The Hockey Writers]
  • A journalist for the Niagara Falls Reporter published a homophobic defense of fighting in hockey: “The NHL’s abominable, “You Can Play” promotion, which all but endorses homosexuality in hockey, is among its top priorities. Thanks to Gary Bettman and his ilk, enforcers are out, but gays are in. . . . Fortunately for Sabres fans, the team has not come out of the closet and the signing of tough guy, John Scott is an indication there might be some shred of manliness left in an otherwise emasculated organization.” Brutal. [Niagara Falls Reporter]
  • Reaction in the hockey blogosphere was swift, with many jumping to condemn the reporter and the newspaper. Pensions Plan Puppets was among the first to respond. [Pension Plan Puppets]
  • Chris Peters is doing a great job covering the recruiting scandal involving the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL and Jacob Trouba, who has committed to play at Michigan University next year. First up, some info about the Rangers suing the student newspaper that broke this story. [United States of Hockey]
  • Next up, Peters provides a helpful overview of the competition between NCAA and CHL teams to recruit talented players to their respective leagues. A very good read to understand the complexity of the recruitment process. [United States of Hockey]
  • Former Colorado Avalanche enforcer Scott Parker gave a lengthy two-part interview to Mile High Hockey that, amongst many other issues, provides some fascinating insights into “the Code” in hockey when Parker discusses Todd Bertuzzi’s infamous attack on Steve Moore. [Mile High Hockey: Part I and Part II]
  • The interview drew a number of responses from the hockey blogosphere. Jake Goldsbie had a good post about the culture of violence in hockey, including Parker’s assessment of Moore. [Backhand Shelf]
  • Will the New York Islanders move to Brooklyn? John Imossi gives five reasons why it could happen. [The Hockey Writers]
  • Greg Wyshynski explains how the NHL’s TV various deals may help reduce the possibility of a lockout. [Puck Daddy]
  • Brandon Worley has a review of Goon. If you missed it in March, I also recommend checking out Matt and Marty’s review of the film on this blog. [Defending Big D]
  • Finally, some very sad news: Jessica Ghawi (AKA Jessica Redfield), a hockey blogger and aspiring sport journalist, was among those killed at the recent shooting at a Colorado movie theatre. She was known by many hockey bloggers and her passing inspired many moving tributes. RIP Jessica. [Puck Daddy; United States of Hockey]

General Sport Links

  • Penn State finally removed the statue of Joe Paterno from its campus. [TSN]
  • Dave Zirin has an interesting and persuasive argument against abolishing the Penn State football program. [Edge of Sports]
  • The NBA votes to place adverts on jerseys. Yikes. How long until the NHL follows suit? [Globe and Mail]

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]

Hockey violence and the 2012 NHL playoffs: Why a moral panic won’t change the NHL’s cultural tolerance of violence

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.

Read more of this post

These Brutal Playoffs: Is Hate the Right Word?

An Open Letter to NHL Players

Brad Marchand: “The more we play each other, the more we hate each other.”

Sidney Crosby: “I hate everyone on their team.”

Dear NHL Players,

Think about how people see you for a second. From the most skeptical perspective, you are grown men playing a game. You are millionaires with a union (which protects the players injuring others from suspension, as opposed to protecting the injured. That’s fucked up). You are mercenaries who fool the populace into thinking that you are playing for them, when really, why would you need that? Sure, you work hard, but you are more than well rewarded for that, and, need we remind you, you are working hard in pursuit of a game. I don’t subscribe to that view, although there is definitely validity to it, and it does describe certain players. Still, I prefer to think of you as masters of your craft, world class performers and artists, incredible entertainers that earn their millions, just like Brad Pitt or Adele.

But even if we see you in that more dignified light, you are still operating in a fantasy realm. What you are known for is not real. It ends after a horn, and can only happen within an area clearly limited by the boards. What you do is as real as theatre. But unlike (most) theatre, you are writing the script as you perform, and so in your performance you determine the nature of the fake reality you are creating. So if you want to treat the game as a realm in which brutal violence is permissible, then you can do that, and you have been. This is pathetic and depressing (I would want my money back if I paid to see that Pens-Flyers debacle), but it obviously works in the context in which you operate (and it sells, although how long that can last is open to debate. The NHL wants the playoffs to be like March Madness right? Does that sell based on the violence it permits?). On the other hand, If you want to approach your game as dignified but dedicated professionals who understand that the goal is to outplay and outcheck your opponent, acknowledging that there are certain rules of common decency that should be followed, while allowing that mistakes will be made, injuries will happen, but both should be purposely limited, then you can do that too. It’s up to you.

However, both of the above understandings of the game EXIST IN FANTASY, IN THE REALM OF PLAY. It is a very important fantasy to many people, and it is fine (I would argue awesome) to take it very seriously and get all the real emotional payoff, aesthetic pleasure and dramatic thrill out of it that you can. But even if you can feel real things and get real value from this fantasy, it is still a fantasy. As such, there is a certain level of distance you should maintain from it.

Therefore, you should not be using serious words like “hate” to describe your rivalries. Hate is a real thing, people get killed for what that word represents. You don’t hate the Flyers, Sidney Crosby, you want to beat them in a game. And Brad Marchand, just shut the hell up and play the game right. Because once you realize that what you do is essentially cut off from reality, but that it can, via injuries, affect reality, you might notice that it’s damn silly, and tragic, for someone to get seriously injured as the result of something happening in a game. And you might notice that this supposed “hatred” you have for one another impacts how you play on the ice, in that you are more likely to elbow a dude in the head if you’re thinking you “hate” him, as opposed to just competing against him, however passionately.

Because what happens in this fantasy realm can affect people in the real world, what happens there can really matter. Which means the attitude you approach the game with matters. You are setting an example, remember, of how to try hard while maintaining your dignity and that of the game, as well as of respecting others in the context of competition. Therefore, the words you use matter, because they define that attitude. I doubt it’s any coincidence that this word, hate, is popping up in dirty series. Both the word and the related actions on the ice are out of step with the true nature of the game. Because, while you might be able to construe the game as a venue for senseless and dangerous violence, given the pliable nature of a fantasy, or play, realm, it’s clearly ridiculous and silly to do so once you’ve realized that you’ve made the conscious choice to make the game that way.

Why would you want to do that? Do you also want a concussion, your for your good friend and teammate to suffer one? Or do you want earn you bragging rights because you were simply better than the other side?

This doesn’t apply to all players, but it does to far too many: show some dignity, play the game, and grow up. The Hockey Gods will know if you did this right or not.

You don’t hate each other. So stop acting like it. At best, you play hate each other, like children playing house. Children, too, have great minds for fantasy. It is contingent upon their parents to teach them the difference between that and real life. Need we do the same for you?

Yours Truly,

E Martin Nolan

“Goon”: A Controversial (and Potentially Important) Film

Goon, the new hockey film about a bouncer-turned-enforcer, was released last week. Courtney Szto has already written about the film on this blog, criticizing it for “poor timing and taste” in light of last summer’s deaths of hockey fighters Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak. I agree with her that the timing and marketing of the film were poor, however beyond that I cannot criticize the film without watching it. And who knows, I may end up enjoying it – after all, Slap Shot is one of my all-time favourite movies, and I think packs a subtle punch in terms of its social commentary.

Given that I have yet to watch Goon (I will post a review whenever I do) I cannot comment too much on the film. Instead, after the jump I examine some of the reaction to the movie, particularly in light of the current debates that are raging around the place of fighting in hockey. Read more of this post

Weekly Links: The Changing Hockey Blogosphere; All-Star Game Politics and Economics

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

  • Great and insightful article about the ways in which the hockey blogosphere has changed over the years, and the decline of indie hockey blogs. [A Theory of Ice]
  • Ever wonder what the glamorous life of a Canadian Women’s Hockey League player is like? Check out this report about Brampton’s travels to play Boston: “Each player had to pay her own airfare. . . . All-in-all, the weekend consisted of five hours of driving in the car, five hours of sitting around airports, three hours flying, eight hours in hockey arenas, and three hours on a bus.” [Canadian Hockey Online]
  • A great piece that echoes many of my thoughts about fighting and violence in the NHL. [Puck Buddys]
  • Greg Wyshynski examines Brendan Shanahan’s performance as the NHL’s VP of Player Safety. [Puck Daddy]
  • An editorial, with which I strongly agree, calls for an end to fighting in junior hockey. [Globe and Mail]
  • Stu Hackel explains why, despite playing an exhibition game in Brooklyn next season, the New York Islanders will not be moving there. [Red Light]
  • Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is attempting to convince the NHL to allow its players to play in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. [Puck Daddy]
  • If you were wondering what is the point of a glorified game of shinny featuring no hitting, backchecking, or defensive awareness (i.e. the NHL All-Star Game), David Shoalts will fill you in: it’s all about the money (and the fans who spend money). [Globe and Mail]
  • Speaking of the All-Star Game, Columbus will host the event in 2013 (assuming there is no lockout). [TSN]
  • Ellen Etchingham looks at the history of the All-Star Game and asks why it is not used to support players who are injured or to do further research to improve player safety. [Backhand Shelf]
  • In honour of the late Rick Rypien, the Vancouver Canucks have launched a mental health awareness campaign. [Nucks Misconduct; Canucks Army]
  • I wrote last week about Tim Thomas’ political decision not to visit the White House. Justin Bourne notes that, despite Thomas’ efforts to downplay the event, he is forever linked to the decision – sometimes in some very humorous ways. [Backhand Shelf]
  • Finally, on the heels of my post about Tim Hortons this week, I found this amusing 2006 article about the same commercial I critiqued. It also contains some interesting tidbits about the cultural resonance of the advert. [Maclean's]

Non-Hockey Links

  • Insightful look at the political implications of the recent and tragic soccer violence in Egypt. [Foreign Policy]
  • Interesting look at concussions in the NFL in light of the admission by some New York Giants that they targeted a San Francisco 49er players who had a history of concussions. [SB Nation]

Future Reading: “Fighting the Good Fight: Why On-Ice Violence is Killing Hockey” by Adam Proteau (2011)

Future Reading is an occasional feature that highlights new or upcoming publications on sport, and particularly hockey, that relate to Hockey in Society’s content and/or that may be of interest to its readers.

Adam Proteau’s new book, Fighting the Good Fight: Why On-Ice Violence Is Killing Hockey, is incredibly timely. In particular, one can’t help but feel that the subtitle is a conscious allusion to the off-ice death of three hockey enforcers this past summer. Hockey fighting quickly became a hot button issue following the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak, and this debate has taken on increased intensity following the New York Times‘ series on the life and untimely death of Boogaard. It is in this climate that Proteau’s book has been released, and while Fighting the Good Fight was most likely undertaken well before the events of this past summer, it will instantly become part of the ongoing, but recently intensified, debate about the role and consequences of fighting in hockey.

Proteau is an excellent columnist for The Hockey News, a rare writer who can simultaneously be informative, analytical, and entertaining. He is noted as a prominent anti-fighting voice within the mainstream media, and brings this perspective to bear in this book. The early reviews from the hockey blogosphere suggest that Proteau’s book could be quite influential in swaying the opinions of some of those who remain in the pro-fighting crowd. A review on The Hockey Writers states:

I was skeptical at best before reading Proteau’s book. However, his factual evidence, persuasive arguments, and straight-forward ideas have forced me to rethink what hockey actually is versus what it should/could be. Fighting the Good Fight should be mandatory reading for all hockey fans. It may just make one think about what really belongs in the sport.

What gets me really excited as a sociologist is that Proteau not only appears to have used extensive interviewing to reach his conclusions, but also that he expands the discussion from the single issue of fighting to critique the broader culture of hockey. From a review on Hockey Book Reviews:

[Proteau] talks with medical experts on head injuries and concussions. He talks with players, coaches, managers and experts about head shots, aggressive bodychecking, injuries and discipline. . . . Furthermore he expands his attack to the entire established hockey culture.

This definitely looks to be valuable contribution to the popular hockey literature, and it is a book that I am excited to read. I purchase the book over the holidays, and hope to have a review of it up on this site early in the new year.

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]

Future Reading: “Sport, Violence and Society” by Kevin Young (2011)

Future Reading is an occasional feature that highlights new or upcoming publications on sport, and particularly hockey, that relate to Hockey in Society’s content and/or that may be of interest to its readers.

Well this is exciting, at least if you’re a nerd like me: a new book on sport and violence by sociologist Kevin Young. Dr. Young is a professor working in the University of Calgary’s Department of Sociology, and he has written extensively on issues relating to criminology, violence, and sport.

The summary of Sport, Violence and Society from Routledge’s website:

In this landmark study of violence in and around contemporary sport, Kevin Young offers the first comprehensive sociological analysis of an issue of central importance within sport studies. The book explores organized and spontaneous violence, both on the field and off, and calls for a much broader definition of ‘sports-related violence’, to include issues as diverse as criminal behaviour by players, abuse within sport and exploitatory labor practices.

Offering a sophisticated new theoretical framework for understanding violence in a sporting context, and including a wide range of case-studies and empirical data – from professional soccer in Europe to ice hockey in North America – the book establishes a benchmark for the study of violence within sport and wider society. Through close examination of often contradictory trends, from anti-violence initiatives in professional sports leagues to the role of the media in encouraging hyper-aggression, the book throws new light on our understanding of the socially-embedded character of sport and its fundamental ties to history, culture, politics, social class, gender and the law.

The Table of Contents offers some intriguing chapter titles, including “A History of Violence: Definitions, Theories, and Perspectives”; “Player Violence: The Drift to Criminalization”; and “Risk, Pain, and Injury in Sport: A Cause or Effect of Violence?”. Young has produced some very interesting scholarship over the years, so his new insights into sport violence should make for a fascinating and enlightening read.

One quibble: unless Young offers specific insight into the incident pictured on the cover – that is, Zenidine Zidane’s headbutt to Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup Final – I don’t find it a particularly helpful cover image, as I think there are far more compelling and less sensational examples that better highlight the many sociological problems concerning sports violence. I suspect that the choice of cover was a decision made by the publisher rather than the author, and that Routledge may have picked an image designed to appeal to a larger market rather than to reflect the content of the book. But, lest I be accused of judging a cover by its book, I will have to wait until I read Sport, Violence and Society to pass judgement.

Overall, this looks like it should be a very insightful publication that seems particularly topical to hockey fans and scholars, given the current climate surrounding issues such as fighting, headshots, frontier justice, and concussions.