Vancouver hockey violence: Life imitates sport

There seems to be an impression among some people that the purchase of a ticket for a hockey match carries with it certain privileges that are denied in other forms of entertainment.  Saturday Night magazine, March 16, 1907

To listen to commentators this morning, one would think that spectator violence following a hockey game is something that is new in Canada.

In reality, it’s as old as the game itself.

Our history is littered with examples of times when spectators and players got carried away and ruined a harmless hockey experience for everybody.

Hockey is violent and, sometimes, life imitates sport.

As Stanley Cheren observed in an 1980 article in the New York Times: “Where the play has been brutal, spectators may find it a model to imitate.”

Let’s take a journey down memory lane.

  • 1907. Herbert Little was fined two dollars and was found guilty of disorderly conduct in Kingston court after he tried to strike a referee and rink manager while calling out that the referee was “rotten”.
  • 1955. Montreal fans took to the street after Maurice “Rocket” Richard was suspended by National Hockey League president Clarence Campbell. A mob rampaged down St. Catherine Street leaving businesses in ruin.
  • 1974. A game between Hamilton and Bramalea got completely out of hand, with violence being directed at the referees. This led to the McMurtry inquiry and this comment from the inquiry head: “It is shocking to learn that in the past season alone the OHA has meted out 48 suspensions for punching, cross-checking, spearing and shoving referees or linesmen. In two attacks, officials sustained fractured arms. This is one area where amateur hockey is probably worse than at the professional level.”
  • 1974. A midget hockey player who had suffered racial slurs during a game was convicted of manslaughter after a member of the opposing team inhaled his own vomit after being kicked in the groin in the parking lot, a continuation of a game fight.
  • 1976. A series of crowd brawls led to criminal charges being laid against both civilians and players in Toronto. Four members of the Philadelphia Flyers, nicknamed the Philadelphia Four, were charged with a variety of offences and a retired police officer in the crowd was charged with common assault on a  Philly player. Charges against the players who joined in the crowd violence included: assault with a dangerous weapon (hockey stick); assaulting a police officer; and assault causing bodily harm after one of the players threw a hockey glove and caused an eye injury to an usherette.

There is no excuse for what happened in Vancouver last night, but no one should be surprised that fans of a violent sport, fueled by disappointment and liquor, would take to the streets like common hooligans.

They’re just following by example.

Thanks to John Barnes, author of Sports and the Law in Canada, for the references.


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