Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sports breeds real-life violence

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THE needless death last week of 15-year-old Manny Castillo, a Grade 10 junior rugby player at Lorne Park Secondary School in Mississauga, is just one more example of a long list of near fatal and fatal injuries boys and young men have sustained while acting out their part in the passion play that is aggressive male sport. Castillo was killed during the last seconds of the game by an opposing player who, police say, picked him up and, away from the playing area, drilled him into the ground.

This senseless act of violence is eerily reminiscent of Todd Bertuzzi's after-the-fact-attack on Steve Moore in 2005 that broke Moore's neck and has prevented him from playing or even having the kind of life a healthy man in his twenties, hockey player or not, should expect.

In Tuesday night's play-off game between Ottawa and Anaheim, the Ducks' Rob Niedermayer received a five minute major and a game misconduct for driving Tomas Holmstrom's face into the glass. Teammate Chris Pronger helped him. Holmstrom lay crumpled on the ice for several minutes and received 13 stitches.

Professional hockey and professional sport in general sell ideals of masculinity to a country that, for all its progressive rhetoric about women and gender, still worships a very traditional maleness. The public broadcaster -- the CBC -- would not pay Don Cherry to be a commentator if this model of masculinity wasn't so desired, and wasn't played out by boys who are at a loss when searching for anyone remotely balanced and non-violent in the mediated culture boys tune into and from which they model their behaviour.

Media images of violent and aggressive male bodies abound. If that male body represents something we deem as good, we allow it a sentimentality and margin of error seen in few other venues.

Witness the placing of Bertuzzi on the 2006 Canadian Olympic hockey team, and the belief that violence on the ice or the playing field really isn't violence, but "part of the game." Also witness the almost saint-like status given by the sports media to professional male athletes who have killed or maimed members of their family, friends, strangers, teammates or themselves simply by being behind the steering-wheel in a car accident.

This steady stream of sporting triumphs and maudlin tragedies is what keeps the wheels of the sports media spinning. Not surprisingly then, there was no national coverage earlier this month of Dr. Graham Pollett, medical officer and CEO for Middlesex-London in Ontario, and his report on the relationship between the eye-for-an-eye violence that occurs within NHL, CHL, and younger leagues, and male violence against women and children. Despite how big and strong adolescent athletes may look, it is crucial to remember that they are still children.

"Hockey violence negatively impacts the game at all levels. For these reasons alone, it should be expected that Hockey Canada would take whatever actions are necessary to minimize violence," states the report entitled Violence in Amateur Hockey. When violence is "coupled with hockey's role as a model for boys and men for dealing with emotionally charged situations, the need for change is that much more apparent" the report continues.

Canadians are terribly reticent about the frequency with which women and children face violence, but when doing so calls into question a tradition that is so deeply ingrained in our culture that hockey becomes our international calling card, Dr. Pollett runs the risk of being tarred as a traitor. (Interestingly, in international tournaments fighting is disallowed and we still manage -- as the world championships clearly showed -- to play great hockey).

Dr. Pollett is adamant and wonders why officials did not make the correlation his report makes decades ago. With the death of Manny Castillo, Dr. Pollett's warning is made so very real: "This form of vigilante justice is accepted even by the referees who only intercede after one player has clearly beaten the other or both players fall to the ice" he writes. "A child who watches and/or plays hockey could be left with the perception that acts of violence are acceptable. This sends the wrong message to all children at this impressionable age."

Anyone who argues that Canadian boys don't learn, at least partly, how to be boys by watching hockey is in denial. Dr. Pollett is arguing that boys take those lessons from hockey and replay them in their everyday lives.

Laura Robinson is the author of Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada's National Sport, and Black Tights: Women, Sport and Sexuality. She is a Nordic skiing and cycling coach.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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