“How can you tell a Canadian from an American? Step on his toe. The Canadian will say ‘sorry.’” This is an old cliché and fits with Canada’s “inner archetype” of itself (see Movement). Unassuming, law abiding, and unfailingly polite is how we see ourselves. By and large, I would say this is fairly accurate and it is not surprising our nations founders held up “Peace, Order, and Good Government” as the ideals our nation would uphold.
Because of this archetype, what I am about to suggest may come as a shock to many of you in Canada. Canada is an extremely violent culture that not only condones and tolerates violence but outright celebrates fighting. On any Saturday in any city in Canada, like clockwork, somewhere there will be a fight. I only have anecdotal evidence but I have witnessed and occasionally been involuntarily directly involved in more violent confrontations in Canada than in any other nation I’ve traveled too. This includes the U.S. (though I suspect they are close to us).
Look at our national sport where so many of its heroes are missing teeth from brawls on the ice. What is the penalty for this? Five minutes on the bench. And anyone who watches the game knows this is just for the “drop the gloves” type of fight. The occasional punch to the head is accepted as part of the game and often goes un-penalised. What other sport has such a light penalty for beating up another player. None. The only exceptions are sports where that is the goal (boxing, ultimate fighting etc). Every other sport would eject the player from the game, suspend and fine the player. Remember the outrage against the soccer player who head butted the chest of his opponent during the World cup final? That would never happen in hockey, “come on he barely touched him” would be the crowd’s reaction. Even football a full contact sport has serious consequences for anyone who punches another player. Why is the penalty so lax when it occurs on the ice? The ice is arguably much more dangerous than grass or turf especially if an unprotected head strikes it. Players on skates are also much more likely to fall. It happens every game and in almost every fight. So why is fighting, which has the possibility for serious injury not seriously discouraged? What does this say about the league?
The audience of course enjoys the spectacle. They will pound the glass hoping for blood and applaud with enthusiasm for the home team gladiator as he takes out his opponent. What does that say about the audience?
I used to get caught up it in too. Especially if the one getting his ass kicked was a “hockey villain”. These depend on the team you cheer for of course and one team’s hero is another’s villain. I completely understand the vicarious thrill that comes from watching two grown men exchange blows. I also understand the entertainment value. It’s kind of like WWF wrestling but not fake and more enjoyable because someone, hopefully “the bad guy,” is getting hurt. What does that say about me?
In my early 20s after being involved in a couple fist fights of my own (always involuntarily) I realized the truth. Fighting is stupid. People get hurt and there isn’t any reason or excuse for any of it. All that other stuff, especially its entertainment value for spectators is something that speaks to the lowest part of our natures. Fighting is wrong. If fighting is wrong then it is also wrong when it takes place on the ice. I can’t say for sure whether hockey actively encourages fighting in the culture at large or whether fighting is so prevalent in Canadian culture that it shows up on the ice. Regardless, we should not encourage fighting anywhere on the ice or off. There should be real penalties in both cases, but right now this is not the case. Why?
As I write this my eye is sore and purple because as I was walking home from a bar a random dude ran up to me, grabbed me by the coat (hockey style) and threw a punch. I was lucky he only partially connected. Had he hit me full on I would have been unconscious on the ground. Who knows? Maybe even with a broken neck if I fell awkwardly enough. Fight or flight adrenaline was pumping into my brain and in that moment I did something that was very hard to do, especially after his fist had glanced off my left eyebrow. I looked him in the eye and said “I’m not going to fight you.” He didn’t let go of me so I reached into my pocket grabbed my house keys and if necessary I was going to hit him with my fist and metal key ring so I could get away. This also felt awful.
Another man came along the scene so I called him over and he talked the guy down and led him away. I couldn’t help thinking it was similar to a referee stepping in to break up a hockey fight. I left quickly and all the way home I thought about calling the police to press charges. After talking with my father I realised that this course of action wouldn’t be productive. It’s my word against his, and he won’t remember it. He was that drunk. Sterling mentioned this morning that the police would probably not even bother to file the report. Why? Because Fight culture is so common in Canada it has become routine and except in the most extreme circumstances is not worthy of investigation. A fight happens every Saturday in Canada at about that time of night. Last Saturday it involved me.