Last week in the Ontario Hockey League there were two players from the Saginaw Spirit that were suspended for things they did in game two of their playoff series against the Guelph Storm. In what was a heated and hard fought game, emotions were high and spilled over. In fact, they spilled right over the ethical line the way they so often do in sports. The Saginaw goaltender, Ivan Prosvetov, got angry after a play and took his frustration out by slamming the puck into the crowd. He received a 5 game suspension for his actions. Veteran Defenceman Justin Murray was handed a suspension for taking his frustrations out on an opposing players head. His cross-check to the head cost him 4 games. The suspensions essentially took both players out for the remainder of the series and with their starting goaltender gone and a top defenceman, the Spirit were not able to turn a 3-1 series lead into a series victory. They would lose last night in a game 7 at home. This is just another example of a long-standing and increasing issue in sports. Violence!
At is core, sports are competitive. Although there is an element of fun and sportsmanship, as humans we are wired to be competitive and have a desire to win. This competition sparks drive and emotions in athletes that push them to excel and be the best hey can be. They can also push them over the line and into a place where they lose control of their emotions. It can lead to mistakes and actions that would never seem ok in an everyday situation. Beyond the game, the whole purpose of sports is to beat the competition. There are many sports where athletes compete individually against time and for points to beat their opponents. Then there are those sports where the athletes are directly competing against each other in an intense battle, many of them being physical contact sports. This desire to win and the competitive fire can sometimes push athletes over the edge and cause them to step over the line of sportsmanship and into the murky waters of violence. What happens when that urge to win becomes so overwhelming that it supersedes the ideas of sportsmanship? What happens when sports become violent?
Violence, an act of physical force that causes or is intended to cause harm. The damage inflicted by violence may be physical, psychological, or both. Violence may be distinguished from aggression, a more general type of hostile behaviour that may be physical, verbal, or passive in nature. Source
Violence by definition is the use of physical force to inflict pain or harm on another. We see this all the time in the sports that we love. Some of the most popular sports are built on a physical element. The intent of the play might not be primarily to cause physical harm but the actions are rooted in making violent and physical plays in order to get an advantage on your opponent. Although it might not be the intention, the pure nature of the sport means that violence and physical injury is inevitable. Violence has become so entrenched in many sports that it is a legal and is actually part of how the game is played effectively. Add in the element of human emotion and aggression and you have a recipe for some pretty scary things.
The following is a list of some of the most violent sports that we watch on a regular basis and that is not including some of the extreme and rare combat sports around the world.
Combat sports are completely built on violence. The entire goal of boxing and MMA is to inflict as much physical punishment on your opponent as possible. Without the act of violence, these sports would cease to exist. Imagine a boxing match where you were not allowed to hit your opponent. Something tells me that a shadow boxing match would not be as exciting to watch. These violent sports are some of the oldest and most revered of all and date back as far as we can remember. Fighters have been punching and kicking their way to greatness since the bare-knuckle matches in the 1600's. The sports have evolved and there are some safety measures in place but how much can the design and material of a glove reduce the impact of a blow to the face or head?
Of all the contact sports, hand to hand combat sports are the ones where I can see emotions taking over the most. I can't imagine keeping my cool for an entire fight where I am having my face bashed in repeatedly. This has to provoke feelings of anger and aggression beyond the tactics in the bout. Over time there have been some extremely bad circumstances that have occurred in the ring that have left a “black eye” on boxing. Mike Tyson biting a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear off during a fight is one of the most memorable and violent acts that has occurred in boxing. If you have the stomach for it I would suggest you look up the worst injuries in MMA online. You will be shocked by some of the images or videos that you come across. Combat sports are still very entertaining but the risk involved is significant and can be catastrophic. Just look at some of the older, retired fighters who's quality of life has been severely affected by the repeated blows to the head over the years.
There are sports where hitting or tackling are not only a part of the game but a necessary skill to be able to play well. Ice hockey is one of the most exciting and fastest sports. The game is played on ice with players flying around on skates. Players use physical contact as a skill and strategy for success in the game. Body checking and hitting are legal and used to create separation and take the puck away. With the speed of the players, you can just imagine the potential devastation when there is a collision. Imagine the impact of two cars slamming into each other at 4-50 KMs per hour. Hockey players can reach speeds up to 30-40 KMs during games. There is also the factor of the boards. Many of these high impact hits happen against the boards. This can create a harder impact and whiplash effect for players.
Hockey is also a sport where fighting is actually allowed. Since the beginning of hockey, fighting has been a big part of the game. Its purpose was to help regulate or protect against players taking liberties with teammates and doing things to intentionally hurt others. It sounds like quite the oxymoron when you consider that the purpose of a fist fight is to do just that. The amount of fighting in the game has reduced in recent years as the game has become more skilled and faster but there is still a large number of fans who feel that fighting is part of "Old Time Hockey" and that the game is not the same without as many fights. While there is some push to eliminate fighting from the game, I don't think that we will see that any time soon.
With intensity being so high it only seems natural that players would have moments where their emotions spill out and things get out of control. Hockey is well known for acts of violence that are outside the scope of the game. There have been a significant number of violent events where players have attempted to injure another player in catastrophic ways. From hits from behind, cross checks to the head, and stick swinging, there have been a plethora of violent acts causing devastating injuries. Living in Ottawa, we often hear stories about the time that Dean McAmmond was brutally injured on a hit to the head from Steve Downie where Downie actually left the ice to jump into McAmmond's head. Then there was the time when Claude Lemieux devastated Kris Draper with a hit from behind into the boards during a playoff game. The hit causing him to suffer a broken jaw, broken nose, broken cheekbone and a concussion. The animosity from the hit would spill over into a massive brawl the following season.
The level of violence has even escalated to the level where players have been criminally charged for their actions on the ice. Both Marty McSorley and Todd Bertuzzi have been charged with assault for actions during a game. McSorley took a full baseball swing at another player's head that left with his stick that knocked the player out and landed him an assault with a weapon charge. Bertuzzi punched an unexpecting player in the head and smashed his head to the ice. The incident would land Steve Moore in the hospital and ultimately end his career, it also landed Bertuzzi in both criminal and civil court. The worst part of the whole Bertuzzi-Moore incident is that it was retaliation for a hit Moore made on a Vancouver and there was evidence of pre-meditation before the incident.
High impact and violent plays are evident throughout the sports world. NFL football has a long history of hard-hitting violence. The sport is founded on players smashing into each other and delivering hits to bring players to the ground. Some of the most devastating hits I have ever seen have been during football games. Seeing a WR coming over the middle of the field with his eyes on an incoming pass while the Safety has him lined up and is about to hit him like a freight train. Football takes a huge toll on players bodies and because of the constant abuse they take, NFL players have the shortest average career length. The NFL has taken some serious steps to increase the safety of their players but at the end of the day, football will always be a high risk and violent sport. The following video is just a few of the biggest hits from last season.
The most intriguing aspect of violence in the sporting arena is how intensely fans are drawn to it. As a kid, when I first started watching hockey, the most exciting part of the game was the fights. Of course, we enjoyed the action and the goals but we would cheer wildly when there was a fight. We would talk about how many fights there might be before a game and afterwards, the fights consumed much of our discussion as well. Fighting is so popular that there are videos dedicated to hockey fights and big hits. Boxing and MMA fights have a huge following. We see and cheer for things in sports that would shock us if seen on the streets and you could be charged with, yet it is socially accepted in sports. In many cases, as fans, the sport itself is enhanced by the potential for these violent collisions and altercations. There are many times when even the fans let their emotions run over and the violence occurs right there in the stands.
I will end this off with one of the angriest and emotional incidents I have ever seen in soccer. There aren't many soccer fans who haven't heard of Zinedine Zidane's meltdown where he actually headbutted an opponent during a game. When competitive sports get intense, emotions will run high and anything is possible.
When it comes to violence in sports, what are your thoughts? Do you like seeing it or does it take away from the sport at all? What are some of the most violent things you have seen in sports? I have only touched the tip of the iceberg with my comments. I look forward to hearing your opinions.