Tag Archives: violence

To fight or not to fight that is the question

October 30, 2013


By Hafiz Karim – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

Fighting in hockey: it has always been a contentious issue, but will it be taken out of the National Hockey League in the near future?  

Rule 46 of the Official NHL Rulebook governs fighting in the NHL.It sets out the criteria for what constitutes a fight, what the rules of a fight are, fines as well as everything else related to an NHL fight.Fighting has always been a part of the game and many are emphatic that fighting needs to remain in the game or the sport of hockey will not be the same.Most teams in the NHL have at least one player who acts as the designated tough guy or goon, and if fighting were no longer in the game, most of them would be out of a job.It is understandable that this group of players does not want fighting to be taken out of the game.Perhaps surprisingly, it is not only this small group of players who want fighting to remain in the game.In a recent article, Kevin Bieksa of the Vancouver Canucks stated that “we’ll play with a tennis ball before we take fighting out” when asked about whether fighting should be removed from the NHL.Players around the league echoed Bieksa’s comment. 

For the most part, fans of the game of hockey love the fights that often occur.This is evidenced in the fact that the crowd at any arena in the NHL erupts and goes wild whenever there is a fight.Based on the reactions of the spectators, it seems that most of them get more excited about a fight than a goal.  This tells you a lot about how fans of the game view fighting in the NHL. 

Another popular view of why many players and fans believe that fighting should remain in the game is expressed by Vancouver Canucks’ enforcer Tom Sestito.Sestito states, “if you don’t have fighting in the game, there are going to be a lot of dirty hits.”He is referencing the idea of accountability on the ice and he believes that fighting holds players accountable.The idea is that without the threat of being challenged to a fight, there is no accountability and that injuries will actually increase because there will be more dirty hits.

Between player and fan support of fighting in the NHL, it seemed like it was going to stay.However, due to an event earlier this month, the debate of whether to remove fighting or not reopened.On the night of October 1st, in a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, Colton Orr and George Parros, the respective enforcers for their teams squared off.The two started throwing punches, which led to Orr losing his balance and falling down.Orr still had a hold of Parros’ jersey as he fell and as Parros threw a punch, he too lost balance and fell face first into the ice.Parros was knocked unconscious, suffered a concussion and had to be taken off the ice in a stretcher. 

This event caused four NHL general managers to come out and speak publicly against fighting in the NHL.Tampa Bay’s Steve Yzerman, Carolina’s Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero and St. Louis’ Doug Armstrong all publicly said it was time that the league took a tougher stance on fighting.  This was significant because in the past the argument was that it was only the media who spoke out against fighting but the “real” hockey people recognized the value of fighting.That argument was laid to rest with the statements made by these general managers.Rutherford was very blunt and stated, “we’ve got to get rid of fighting.It has to go.” Yzerman made a strong argument by pointing out the efforts the league goes through to reduce head injuries by penalizing and suspending players for making contact with the head but they still allow fighting.He goes on to say that “we’re stuck in the middle and need to decide what kind of sport do we want to be.Either anything goes, and we accept the consequences, or take the next step and eliminate fighting.”

Will the NHL re-examine their policy on fighting in the league after the Parros injury and the public statements made by four of their general managers or will they continue to allow fighting in the league?Only time will tell.

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Changing the culture of violence in sport

July 4, 2011


I wrote last week of the lacrosse head stomping incident. A colleague of mine at Thompson Rivers University, Peter Soberlak – Chair of the Physical Education Department – penned an erudite piece in the local paper (click here for it), the highlights of which are worth repeating and are noted below:


We must also focus our attention on the sports that condone and promote a high level of violence and encourage these organizations to accept partial responsibility and be accountable, rather than deny any involvement, and in this case, single out a 15-year-old boy who obviously made a very poor decision.

When violence and intimidation are built into the culture of certain sports and are used both tactically and strategically, they become part of the psyche of the athletes involved. How can we expect 15-year-olds who are often dealing with raging hormones, peer pressure, coach pressure, and parental pressure to always make the right decisions in these emotionally charged situations that are allowed to escalate because of the culture of the sport itself and the rules that are in place?

There are far too many variables that lead to situations and incidents like this in youth sport and it’s about time that we re-examine the structure and culture of violence within certain sports, particularly at the youth level.

I sincerely hope that the sport of lacrosse and its governing bodies will take this opportunity to stand up, acknowledge its role in this incident, and show some leadership in promoting positive social change in the culture of youth sport.


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Police investigate lacrosse head stomping incident

June 30, 2011


I live in the same city in which the court two years ago acquitted of assault a high-school player whose punch broke an opponent rugby player’s nose and cheekbone and has just had another violent incident in which during a lacrosse game it is alleged a 15 year old boy was head stomped by an opponent (click here for the article in The Vancouver Sun).

But first, in R v. TNB (BCPC 0117), Honourable Judge S.D. Frame ruled that players consent to violent contact within and certain violent conduct outwith the rules of the game. Cognizant of the playing culture of the game, Frame J. stated that the ‘amalgam of rules includes the legitimate strategy of intimidation of the opposite team by head-butting, eye gouging, elbowing, raking and punching’ and noted that ‘none of these infractions is permitted by the written rules but it is accepted by the unwritten code of conduct at this level of play in the game of rugby.’ The defendant was exonerated on the grounds that the punch was randomly thrown and not intended to target and hit the injured plaintiff and, as such, fit within rugby’s unwritten but accepted code of conduct.

Now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are investigating the incident in which Blake Rose was felled by two cross-checks (which if properly administered are permissible) but then had his head stomped on in the waning minutes of a lacrosse game between the Kamloops Rattlers and Kelowna Kodiaks. The league has suspended the offending player. RCMP spokesman Staff Sgt. Grant Learned correctly noted that the investigation will hinge on whether ‘the nature of that contact [the cross-check and stomp] was so outside the boundaries of acceptable contact that the nature of misconduct was egregious and bordering into that realm of criminality?”

With respect to J. Frame’s judgment in R v. TNB, if the head stomping allegations are proven true, it is hoped that the court will not take such an accommodating view of the role of violence in sport and the extent to which participants consent to injurious force which are prohibited by the rules but are incredulously permitted within the culture of the game.

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Hockey violence is getting out of control

March 8, 2011


You know hockey violence is getting out of control when noted commentator and former National Hockey League pugilist Mike Milbury – who once infamously warned against the ‘pansification’ of hockey – says a player should be banned from the league.

Milbury is calling for New York Islander Trevor Gillis to be kicked out of the NHL. Gillis served a nine game suspension for charging and concussing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Eric Tangradi with a high elbow to the head before landing several punches in a one-sided fight. Four shifts into his first game back from the suspension, Gillis head-hunted Minnesota Wild player Cal Clutterbuck with a hit from behind. NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell described Gillies’s hit as a deliberate attempt to injure by delivering a blow to the head of an unsuspecting player who was unable to defend himself. Then he gave Gillis a feeble 10 game suspension.

On a related note, the Edmonton Journal just published an article I wrote entitled, ‘Violence on the ice is getting out of control’ about a Canadian university hockey player being attacked by a ‘repeat offender’ who had already been suspended in two different leagues for injuring opposing players. Here are a few excerpts:

… …

Hockey got yet another black eye last week when University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey player Eric Hunter was attacked by University of British Columbia Thunderbird Mike Liambas …. In an incident eerily similar to Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi’s assault on Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche, Hunter suffered facial cuts and a concussion after being punched in the head from the side and behind and then driven into the ice by Liambas.

… …

Hockey is a violent game but the violence is getting out of control. Too many players are getting hurt. Players – including Bertuzzi have been convicted of assault. Civil lawsuits – including Steve Moore’s ongoing $38-million suit against Bertuzzi and the Canucks – are no longer out of the ordinary.

It is time gratuitous violence in hockey was no longer considered normal and that teams did more to self-regulate and leagues did more than impose slap-on-the-wrist penalties.

Hunter is a young man studying business at the U of A who accepted the risks ordinarily inherent to playing hockey, such as being tripped, cross-checked and fighting. He would not, however, have consented to enduring a blindside hit and being driven into the ice.

Canadian university hockey should not suffer if the league doesn’t have the moral courage to do the right thing. Universities should send a message that thuggery will never be tolerated by kicking players off their teams if and when it occurs …  Liambas should be prohibited from playing in the league.

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Taking hockey violence seriously

February 7, 2010



It is sad when gratuitous violence in hockey has become so frequent and normalized that it is no longer especially newsworthy. Columnists like Roy MacGregor of The Globe and Mail for example pen excellent articles entitled, ‘Enough talk about hockey violence – time for action’ but such pleas get drowned out by background noise and fall on deaf ears.

Since January 1, a 17 year old hockey player has been charged with aggravated assault in Edmonton after he speared an opponent with his stick after a stoppage in play, and two major junior hockey players (Marco Scandella and Patrice Cormier) have been suspended for the remainder of the season in separate incidents involving headshots.

Cormier’s hit to an unsuspecting Mikael Tam resulted in Tam becoming unconscious and convulsing on the ice. It can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgwCaxEB6-Y&feature=related

Politicians wring their hands of it. Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, himself a former hockey player at Princeton University, properly figures the National Hockey League should lead by example. Opposition Liberal MP Ken Dryden, a Hall of Fame NHL goalie and a lawyer like Mr. Flaherty, suggests leagues should impose a strict liability standard on headshots leaving it to the offending player to disprove the intent to injure and that lawsuits could spur future changes. Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Dryden dissociate the government and their parties from their views noting that they were speaking as individuals and nothing more.

Not to be outdone, New Democratic Party MP Glenn Thibeault wants a royal commission on violence in sports.


Meanwhile, the best hockey’s governing body can do is to have a summit meeting to talk about it some more. Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson is saying all the right things to encourage minor hockey to get its house in order otherwise unspecified measures may be implemented to regain control of the game.

None of this is new. Hockey is a violent game but the violence is getting out of control. Hockey players have been killed. Too many are getting hurt. Eight of the ten longest suspensions levied by the NHL have been in the 21st century. Players have been criminally convicted of assault. Civil lawsuits are not out of the ordinary.

It is time that gratuitous violence in hockey not be considered normal and that professional and amateur leagues stop talking and start doing something serious about it.

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Do Helmets Make Contact Sport Safer?

November 13, 2009



The Wall Street Journal published an interesting story about the role helmets serve in protecting players in American football.  The article describes how helmets were invented to protect against skull and facial fractures which were then pervasive in the game and how those injuries have been replaced by concussions.  Whilst helmets reduced the likelihood of lethal skull fractures, they also paradoxically created a sense of invulnerability that encouraged players to collide more forcefully, more often and with hits directly to the head.  

The discovery that the compounding effects of ‘wear and tear’ to the brain as a result of such repeated hits is being felt by players years after they retire from American football has caused the game (and Congress) to take a hard look at itself.

The piece also provocatively showed how the at-least equally tough Australian football players, who do not wear the body armour and helmets worn by their American brethren, are 25% less likely to sustain a head injury although their incident rates for shoulder and knee injuries are higher.  This suggests that players compensate for the lack of personal protective equipment by either not hitting as violently or by knowing how to take a hit.  

On a related note, it is noteworthy that after years of dismissively rejecting any criticism of injuries to its hockey players by saying that the game was inherently violent, general managers of the National Hockey League are now contemplating rule changes that would make egregious blind-side hits to the head illegal.  This tide change was brought on by a recent rash of heat shots resulting in players temporarily losing consciousness and getting concussed.

No doubt motivating the decision makers of both leagues is how rule changes will affect the integrity of the game and the bottom line of the sport.  With bigger, stronger and faster players hitting one another harder than ever before, the NHL reasonably foresees a player getting paralyzed or killed if it doesn’t do something.

The National Football League, however, appears not to have an appetite to seriously look at this issue.

In another posting, I’ll couple American football players’ behavioural adaptation to helmets (by hitting harder) and hockey players’ response to rules cracking down on fighting (by taking more cheap shots) with the risk homeostasis theory as promulgated by Dr. Gerald Wilde of Queen’s University in Canada.  In short, Wilde’s theory says that a person or a system unconsciously calibrates and accepts a certain level of risk in order to maximize the overall expected benefit from an activity.  Thus, a control measure designed to mitigate the risk in one area (such as helmets or rule changes) is compensated by behaviour which elevates the risk to its pre-existing level.  This makes for quite the balancing act!

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Hockey Goalie Pleads Guilty to Assault

October 8, 2009



Chicoutimi, Quebec

Jonathan Roy pleaded guilty to simple assault in a Quebec court and was granted an absolute discharge by the judge today.  The charge stemmed from an incident during a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoff game in March 2009 when Quebec Remparts goaltender Jonathan Roy skated the length of the ice to fight an unwilling and defenseless Bobby Nadeau.  Roy’s attack was brutal and barbaric.  He punched Nadeau at least 14 times even while his victim lay supine on the ice. 

Roy’s guilty plea saved the court the task of balancing The Criminal Code of Canada with the playing culture of hockey.  Hockey is renowned for its violence.  What made this case interesting was that whilst hockey players generally consent to some level of violence both within and outwith the rules and accept some risk of injury, Roy’s victim did not agree to fight nor attempt to defend himself.  Incredibly, he was not injured. 

This case is unique insofar as a hockey player pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal assault for a fight in which the victim was not harmed.  A person commits an assault under s.265 of the Criminal Code when he applies force intentionally to another person, directly or indirectly, without the consent of the victim.  This clearly was the case at bar.  It is noteworthy that the sport of hockey is replete with instances where players have been injured in equally egregious circumstances but no charges are filed as it is rationalized as being all part of the game.

It’s impossible to speculate whether or not this case represents a turning point in Canadian courts’ treatment of hockey violence.  One thing for sure though, given that Roy couldn’t hurt Nadeau with a dozen-plus punches, it’s a good thing he’s hung up his skates and taken up a new career in singing.

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Hockey Player Acquitted of Assault

July 7, 2009



Victoria, BC 

Robin Gomez was acquitted of assault causing bodily harm in an incident which arose from a punch thrown during a semi-professional hockey game in 2008.  Hubbard J ruled that players impliedly consent to this type of misconduct and that retaliatory hits are part of the game. 

In several past hockey assault cases, defendant players have successfully pleaded that they were either provoked or acted in self-defence.  These acts of provocation included being struck in the head by an opponent’s stick or cross-checked from behind.  

What is particularly interesting in this case is that Hubbard J appears to regard taunting and trash talking as sufficient cause to incite or provoke an assault condoned by the courts. 

Hockey cases such as these are further complicated in proving the necessary mens rea insofar as Gomez’s role in the game is to intimidate and fight but not necessarily to injure.

Chris Ferraro’s civil suit is still pending.

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Hockey Violence in Canada – Part Deux

June 18, 2009



Victoria, BC

In anticipation of the criminal assault case (blogged below) beginning on June 15, injured hockey player Chris Ferraro unsurprisingly filed a civil suit three days earlier against Robin Gomez and the owner of Gomez’s hockey team. 

In a potpourri of claims, Ferraro is claiming Gomez was negligent and reckless or, in the alternative, intentionally assaulted him.  In addition, Ferraro is claiming that RG Facilities Ltd., owner of the Victoria Salmon Kings hockey team, was vicariously liable for Gomez’s actions or, alternatively, that they were negligent in allowing the team’s coach to encourage Gomez to leave the bench or in failing to take adequate steps to prevent him from leaving the bench.

Ferraro is claiming general damages, punitive and exemplary damages, special damages, and medical costs.

This is going to get interesting.

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Hockey Violence on Trial in Canada

June 16, 2009



Victoria, BC

On the heels of a high school rugby player convicted of manslaughter last month in the 2007 death of Manny Castillo in Ontario, Canada (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2009/05/28/castillo-guilty.html), the trial began today of a hockey player charged with assault causing bodily harm.

Robin Gomez of the Victoria Salmon Kings surprised an unsuspecting Chris Ferraro with a hard punch to the face during a minor professional hockey league game last year.  Ferraro hit his head on the ice, was concussed and required eight stitches.

It is yet another in a long line of civil and criminal cases plaguing hockey violence in Canada.  We’ll stay on top of this suit.

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