Sportsmanship starts at home

“I will play by the rules of hockey and in the spirit of the game. I will control my temper – fighting and mouthing off can spoil the activity for everyone. I will respect my opponents.”

It’s advice Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi should have taken to heart, even though it is just the fair play code for the players in the Ottawa Centre Minor Hockey Association.

It is hardly a revolutionary statement, but it does indicate something: that violence in the game of hockey isn’t a concern limited to the NHL.

The Ottawa Centre Minor Hockey Association is dedicated to improving its players’ skills, fostering co-operation and teaching sportsmanship. But even when caring coaches and parents guide young players, it is not enough when their role models are bloodthirsty and money-hungry thugs.

Violence and aggression are learned behaviours and are nurtured by outside influences – like watching Colorado Avalanche Steve Moore take a sucker punch from behind.

What followed the punch didn’t help. The incident could have been used to teach youngsters that “mugging” another person is always wrong. Instead, it taught them that if you cry and apologize it will be all right. You’ll be forgiven.

Children react to what they see. The NHL shows them their millionaire heroes beating people up and suggests it’s okay.

For hockey fans, young and old, idol status is becoming connected to who can hit hardest rather than skill in the game.

And, Don Cherry tells them it’s the “Canadian way.” European players are less physically violent in the game and thus “soft,” he says. No young Canadian hockey player wants to be labelled as that kind of coward. So they model themselves to the culture of violence our sports heroes are perpetuating.

Even though the Ottawa Centre Minor Hockey Association demands that parents sign an agreement saying they’ll instill good sportsmanship in their children, the measure can’t and hasn’t been effective as kids continue to be overexposed to hockey violence on television. For example, last summer the association had to send out press releases reminding members that checks to the head “demonstrate and lack of response and fair play” and checking from behind is a “dangerous and cowardly act.”

And amidst this problem, Cherry is giving children free lessons in how to fight properly: “Face to face – you settle it that way.”

He’s wrong.

If your son or daughter had a friend constantly getting into fistfights at school, you’d encourage them to get some new friends because that type of behaviour is unacceptable in a civilized society.

It shouldn’t be any different just because someone has a pair of skates on their feet.

—Julia Skikavich