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

bookBefore I left on vacation I visited my local library to pick up some ‘summer beach reads’.  Naturally, as an academic geek and hockey fan I left the library with Adam Proteau’s Fighting the Good Fight: Why on-ice violence is killing hockey and Sheema Khan’s Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman (I don’t know how much hockey is in this one but the hockey sticks on the cover were enough to sell me).  The review of Khan’s book will have to wait for now but for anyone wanting to learn more about the arguments for and against hockey fighting Proteau’s book is an easy read with some interesting perspectives from players, coaches and other hockey personnel.

For those of you unfamiliar with Adam Proteau’s stance on hockey fighting he refers to fighting in the book as a “dancing bear show”.  He believes that fighting takes away from the excellence of the sport and that the NHL has severely failed as far as player safety is concerned.  Throughout the book he highlights how the culture of hockey has changed from using one’s body to separate a player from the puck to separating a player’s body from their head.  He backs up his statements with solid suspension and injury facts and from testimonials from hockey insiders such as long-time NHL referee Kerry Fraser and players Mathieu Schneider and Georges Laraque.

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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]

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.

Weekly Links: Homophobia and Bullying; Grey Areas in Hockey Violence; Mandatory Visors?

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

Andrew Gadsby of Puck Buddies writes an op-ed about homophobia and bullying, in light of the tragic suicide of Jamie Hubley – an openly gay Ottawa teenager who was bullied, in part, because he chose to figure skate instead of playing hockey. A must read. RIP Jamie. [Globe and Mail]

Justin Bourne urges hockey to “accept the gray area” of hockey violence, and makes some excellent points about the ways in which sports are socially constructed: “Sports are a fairly arbitrary collections of rules. . . . It is debatable whether a rule has any fundamental value other than the value people give it. Hockey is not static and fixed: we can add and remove things from it and the only thing that really determines whether it is still ‘hockey’ is our own judgement.” [Backhand Shelf]

Despite Chris Pronger suffering a brutal eye injury on Wednesday, some members of the Philadelphia Flyers refuse to wear a visor. The phrases “too macho to wear a visor” and “longstanding stereotypes about toughness that consider visors an effete accessory” (the  latter a quotation from the New York Times) speak volumes about the culture of hockey. [Puck Daddy]

Travis Hughes believes that the NHL must impose mandatory visors, because players will never accept this condition voluntarily. [SB Nation]

A legal perspective on mandating visors – in short, it can’t be done without the buy-in of the NHL Player’s Association. [Offside: A Sports Law Blog; h/t to Spector’s Hockey for the link]

Bruce Arthur argues that, love him or hate him, “Don Cherry will be missed” whenever he leaves the airwaves. Despite the fact that Hockey in Society’s output will likely be cut in half without Cherry, I can’t say I agree with Arthur. [National Post]

Just in case you think Cherry has lost his influence, Bruce Dowbiggen reminds us of his tremendous in and on the sport. [Globe and Mail]

An interesting examination of the “NHL feeder chain” – that is, where NHL players play before making the big leagues. The CHL and NCAA are first and second, followed by European professional leagues. [Puck Worlds]

This is a few years old, but Stu Hackel wrote a great piece about why the instigator rule should remain in hockey. Particularly interesting insights about the Philadelphia Flyers Stanley Cup winning teams of the 1970s, and how the Broad Street Bullies used strategic violence against opponents’ star players in order to win games. [Slap Shot]

The Manitoba Junior Hockey League suspends 14 players and the head and assistant coaches of the Neepawa Natives for hazing, and the RCMP is investigating the incident. Sadly, hazing is very common in minor hockey and strong regulation is very much needed to stamp it out. As for the name “Neepawa Natives”… how on earth has that not been changed? [CTV Winnipeg]

As details about the incident leak out, a well-argued call for police action on hazing incidents. [Buzzing the Net]

Ken Campbell wants Hockey Canada’s residency rules to change, so that children can more easily play hockey in locations other than their home area. Seriously problematic in my opinion, as it gives carte blanche to over-zealous hockey parents to frequently uproot their children in pursuit of a career in professional hockey. [The Hockey News]

More arena politics: Edmonton City Council votes in favour of the Oilers’ downtown arena proposal, because the politicans “believe that other businesses will sprout up quickly in the area around the arena”. [SB Nation]

Finally, the NHL continues its efforts to emulate the NBA’s globalization strategies by signing a major European TV deal. [SB Nation]