March 30, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 94  

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What causes violence in sports?

By Matt Larkin
Gazette Staff

Gazette File Photo
ARE EVENTS LIKE THIS CRIMINAL ACTS?. Sports, and hockey in particular have come under heavy scrutiny recently because of questionable activity on the ice.

For the past few weeks, Todd Bertuzzi’s vicious attack on Steve Moore has been the talk of the sporting world.

The incident’s impact stretches far beyond the realm of professional hockey; in addition to altering the reputation of Bertuzzi, the Vancouver Canucks and the NHL, the event has raised many questions on the issue of violence in sports.

Is there a place for the “eye for an eye” mentality? Do two wrongs make a right in some cases? If one “cheap shot” goes unpunished, should a player take the law into his or her own hands? Should incidents such as the Bertuzzi attack or the more recent Mark Messier spear and Wade Belak slash be seen in a criminal light, or do they deserve isolation from the law?

The sucker punch on Steve Moore was tied to a previous hit delivered by Moore to Vancouver Canuck and Bertuzzi teammate Markus Naslund, and serves as evidence that violent retribution is a constant presence in many sports.

Natascha Wesch, a Western kinesiology professor and coach of the Mustangs’ women’s rugby team, sees no purpose in answering violence with more violence on the playing field.

“I think violence in rugby, and fighting back, is not accepted,” Wesch says. “In some other sports, like hockey, that’s not the case — it’s encouraged and nobody cares.”

Paul Cook, coach of the Western women’s hockey team, says he feels that a violent offender on the playing surface does at times need to be disciplined, but only if that message is non-violent.

“If you see someone who keeps giving cheap shots, not simply to play intensely but with intent to injure, it’s difficult to decide if you need to deliver a message to that person”.

Mustangs’ women’s hockey captain Amanda Somerville agrees in sometimes delivering a message to a dirty player, but not through additional violence.

“I don’t think violence is necessary to stand up for your teammates,” Somerville says. “It can be done verbally or through shadowing your opponent to get a point across.”

Speaking in a hockey context, Cook sees communication problems between a coach and player as the source of much of the violence seen in sports.

“You have to be careful who you send out for a face-off,” Cook warns. “A coach must make sure a player understands that delivering a message doesn’t mean an order to attack.”

Physiological arousal often comes to the forefront as a defense for violent behaviour in sports. Can one appropriately blame the heightened emotion that occurs during competitive athletics for vicious acts, or is doing so a cop-out?

“I think your actions, whether you’re on a playing field or not, no matter what level of arousal, must be controlled,” Wesch says. “If you can’t control yourself, that’s a matter of an arousal problem. Whether you’re on a sports field or in a car, you’re still responsible. Saying ‘the emotion of the game made me do it’ is like saying ‘the alcohol made me do it’. That’s garbage.”

Should sport-related attacks like those seen in recent weeks be treated as criminal matters? Reflecting on the infamous Marty McSorley stick- swinging incident that occurred in an NHL game several years ago, Somerville feels that each violent incident must be treated differently.

“I think [the legal penalty] depends on what the attack is,” she explains. “Bertuzzi used his fist, unlike McSorley. You need to be in control of your stick, even in the heat of the moment. If you’re using your stick as a weapon, that’s unacceptable.”

Attacks like that performed by Bertuzzi suggest fingers are being pointed at referees for not properly punishing the initial incident that inspires the often more malicious act of vengeance. Wesch feels most officials do a sufficient job of dishing out punishment, at least from a rugby perspective.

“It depends on the level of officiating,” Wesch says. “Is the right referee with the proper experience refereeing? Can she handle the game? It depends on what the sport expects from the officials, players and coaches. Rugby problems are dealt with quickly because [retribution] isn’t expected or accepted.”

“An eye for an eye is not the way to go,” Cook says. “You want the officials to look after the game. If for whatever reason [a violent act] isn’t punished, it’s not right as a coach to send a message to avenge an injury. For a coach, there’s a fine line between looking after the game and making a mistake.”



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