“Why are they doing that? I would be suspended or expelled if I did that at school.”
This question, raised by the 10-year-old son of Western Faculty of Education professor Peter Jaffe after witnessing a fight at a London Knights game, was one that panelists tackled at the Violence in Hockey Symposium 2009 at the London Convention Centre yesterday.
Jaffe was one of 16 speakers at the symposium and he believes hockey fighting is a symptom of the overall attitude towards it in our society.
“Children learn what they live,” he said. “We get 100 people out to a hockey fighting symposium, but if Don Cherry came to talk about a good fight, we would get 9,000.”
John Young, a hockey coach and parent, agreed.
“We pay 10 to 15 bucks to go to a Knights game and cheer on 17-year-olds fighting,” he said. “This is ludicrous; there is something wrong with our society right now.”
Graham Pollett — medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit and organizer of the event — explained the overall goal of the symposium was to discuss violence within our society and the role fighting in hockey has within it.
“The larger issue is violence in society and what we want to do is engage boys and men in a dialogue about it,” he said. “We thought one of the ways to do that is through sports.
“Emotions get high in hockey and frequently players [resort] to violence … and one of the things we want to do is to teach them that there are other ways to deal with emotional conflict situations and if we can do that through sports, then the intent is that they can take that to other aspects of their life outside of the game.”
The debate on fighting in hockey has recently been fueled after the death of Don Sanderson, a 21-year-old defenceman with the Whitby Dunlops of the Ontario Hockey Association. While in a fight this past December, Sanderson’s helmet came off and he hit his head on the ice during the altercation. He subsequently passed away in January.
“I was horrified by the death of Don Sanderson. That should never happen,” Scott Russell, broadcaster for CBC, said.
Bryan Lewis, a former referee and director of officiating for the National Hockey League, said the issue lies in disciplining repeat offenders.
“We must be more severe to the habitual offender,” he said. “When things are done on purpose … get to those people. Address those people that are habitual in behaviour, not accidental.”
Although many attendees said they thought violence ought to be dealt with at younger ages, panelists agreed the best way to create real change is to look at the problem from the top-down.
“I think the NHL needs to take responsibility,” Jaffe said. “[Fighting] has to be taken out of minor hockey, but it does not make a difference if the NHL still has it.
“The London Knights are producing players for the NHL. As long as the NHL has fighting, kids need to be trained to survive.”
As with violence more generally in society, the media is often blamed for promoting hockey violence.
“It is the short, violent video clips [that] are appealing,” Russell said. “As members of the media, we are culpable in that to gain viewership. We need to examine that.”
“It has a fetishistic quality,” Bruce Dowbiggin, an author and sports writer for the Calgary Herald, added. “[Fighting] is like porn almost. It is something we don’t see everyday and we like it for the sensational quality.”
Despite the support for the anti-fighting side of the debate, panelists agreed the people who have the voices and authority to instill real change in hockey remain in support of the opposite argument.
“I am so discouraged,” Ken Campbell, sports writer for the Hockey News, said.
“I am not terribly encouraged by what I am seeing at the level of managers. They have never really done a thorough investigation of violence in hockey and its effect on the fan base if it was removed. I think they are scared to death of that.”
—with files from Mallory Daley