Defending the Blue Line: Hockey and militarism as social responsibility?

During the pre-game interview with Zach Parise before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Parise mentioned that he is involved with an organization called Defending the Blue Line (DTBL).  The interview showed Parise hanging out with military men and their families while shooting some stuff.  This peaked my interest so I decided to look into DTBL further.

The mission of DTBL is

ensuring that children of military members are afforded every opportunity to participate in the game of hockey.  We accomplish this by providing free equipment for military kids, hockey camps, special events, and financial assistance for registration fees and other costs associated with hockey.

DTBL was created in 2009 by a group of Minnesota soldiers (the hockey state!).  It appears that Parise’s allegiance to the organization probably has something to do with the fact that his father is on the Board of Directors.  Other players who support DTBL include: Cal Clutterbuck, George Parros, Matt Henricks, Ryan Kesler and Sean Avery.  NHL teams listed as partners include: the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.  You may also be interested to know that the Derek Boogaard Memorial is a MVP Level sponsor/donor.

Sport is like war without the killing (hopefully), this notion is nothing new.  We see it when the fighter jets fly over before the start of the Indy 500.  We see it when athletes wear camouflage jerseys.  We hear it when commentators talk about athletes being warriors in the trenches.  As Mark Norman has outlined in a previous post it is important to dissect the significance of the link between sport and militarism, and for our purposes, hockey and militarism.  Dr. Samantha King, a professor of Cultural Studies at Queen’s University, has written about the synergy between sport and war with the specific example of the National Football League in a post-9/11 world.  King (2008) writes:

as professional leagues such as the NFL incorporate Bush administration policy into their business strategy with the aim on enhancing brand identification and capital accumulation, it appears that a system is emerging in which sport culture has moved beyond its customary role as an ideological support to the corporate state.  Therefore, although relationships between sport and the state are not new, there is an intensified depth and mutuality to the sport-war nexus in the present moment – a shift that might be understood as a further indication of the miltarization of everyday life, and, simultaneously, of the “sportification” of political life – in the contemporary United States. (p.528)

In Canada, a country not known for its military might, Don Cherry is often the mouth piece for the connection between hockey and our military.  To illustrate:

  • in reference to Colton Orr, Cherry stated: “This is how fighters get ready.  This is a man.  This is a guy.  This is the guy you want at the end of the trench.”
  • during Coach’s Corner’s “Salute to Canadian Fallen Heroes” – “hockey players and the military are the same”.
  • during the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic, Cherry was shown signing machine guns in Afghanistan and posing for photos with our men (didn’t see any women) in uniform.

I suppose DTBL is an example of the militarization of everyday life, but the question that pops into my head is not the value of a program like DTBL, but the need for volunteerism programs to make up for gaps in state provided welfare. In the era of neoliberalism, North America has witnessed a sharp decline in state provided welfare programs; hence, the desire and requirement for corporations and individual citizens to step in and take care of each other.  Are programs like DTBL a demonstration of public acceptance that the state need not be responsible for the well-being of its soldiers families while in combat? Regardless of how I feel about military intervention, I believe that those who have sacrificed for their country should receive appropriate compensation and reintegration.

Photo from MLive.com.

The second point I would like to raise is how much support from the NHL level this organization has received.  DTBL boasts support from 11 NHL teams, 16 current NHL’ers, 11 former NHL’ers (of which, Boogaard is included), and 2 “future” NHL’ers.  DTBL appears to have more voluntary support from NHL teams and players than most of the NHL’s own social responsibility programming!  I think the intent behind DTBL is great, but it is important for us to question why a program like this receives such uncritical support from both players and teams, whereas something like the You Can Play project does not have one NHL team, from what I can tell, as an official partner. In fact, there isn’t even one corporate hockey partner listed on the website. I wouldn’t go as far as Cherry to say that hockey players and the military are the same, but certainly sport, like the military, is an arena where masculinity is formed and tested. They are both institutions that require complete devotion.  You are with us or against us, I suppose.  Perhaps, that is why DTBL has received such widespread support from the hockey community.

I wonder, is it problematic that militarism and hockey align so closely when programs that pursue human rights (e.g. You can Play) and environmental issues (e.g. Restore Hockey) seem far more efforted and tangential? One would think that human rights and environmentalism are far more intertwined in the everyday workings of the NHL than is military conflict, but I guess I would be wrong.

Works Cited:

King, S.  (2009). Offensive lines: Sport-state synergy in an era of perpetual war.  Cultural Studies & Critical Methodologies, 8, pp.527-539.

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One thought on “Defending the Blue Line: Hockey and militarism as social responsibility?

  1. Pingback: Camouflage jerseys: In support of, what exactly? | Hockey in Society

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