Last night as San Jose Sharks played the St Louis Blues in the Western Conference final of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Mike Milbury, hockey analyst for NBCSN made the following statement:
“This is so unsatisfying for me as a former coach to watch a player with a slash that doesn’t really hurt him. If you’re going to slash him, crack a bone or something. If you’re going to hit somebody from behind, give him a slight concussion or whatever. I don’t mean that obviously too seriously, but just something!”
Milbury was clearly unaware of the response these comments would provoke, claiming that he was simply being facetious and will, I imagine, be back-tracking on them fairly swiftly this morning.
Is this an issue? What does it say about sports, masculinity, violence and indeed broadcasting, where the dominant view given is one commanding injurious violence? Indeed, the polarised responses to this on social media are also interesting:
Wow, Mike Milbury advocated violence and injury. In a hockey game. You don’t say.
The comments on news stories are always interesting with any story of sports violence. On the one hand fans of Don Cherry’s Old School Rock ’em Sock ’em style of hockey maintain that Milbury was right, that we are taking safety too seriously – leading to an overly cautious response from players when administering their hits, checks and slashes. These supporters are often critical of the aim to reduce hitting in junior hockey, claiming that sports are an avenue for physical combat and should be allowed to retain a physical nature.
On the other hand, we have a wealth of hockey researchers, scientists, organisations and indeed many hockey parents or players themselves warning that a more cautious approach is needed. The rise in awareness of brain injuries and the ongoing legal battles between the NHL and individual players are causing a sea-change in our acceptance of injurious violence in the sport.
The Canadian Paediatric Society recently advocated that contact in junior hockey be drastically reduced. This has brought about similarly polarised opinions, as has researcher-suggested tackling in rugby in the UK.
It seems likely that Milbury is a step behind this change and did not expect his comments to be taken as seriously as they have been, but his comments and the ongoing reaction to them illustrates what is an interesting time in the changing culture of sports violence.
What are your thoughts on this? Follow the conversation on Twitter @SilverwoodVS
Dr Victoria Silverwood, Lecturer in Criminology, Birmingham City University.