There is no shortage of opinions regarding whether or not violence in hockey should be curbed. Certainly the NHL, the fans and the players would all like to see incidents such as the Bertuzzi-Moore fiasco eliminated from the game. Some fans would go further, but that approach may not be realistic. All physical, contact sports will be inherently aggressive. That aggression will naturally boil over from time to time. Players need to be able to vent their pent-up aggression in ways that are not detrimental to the well-being of other players, and for the most part fights and hits achieve that end.
The ultraviolent incidents, however, can be addressed by eliminating some of the most violent aspects of hockey. The Canadian cultural trait of disrespect towards referees was noted by Pascall (2000), and he also noted that minor league players take strong behavioural cues from professional players. It stands to reason that part of the path to eliminating the most violent incidents in hockey is to instill greater respect for the rule of law.
The code exists not because players inherently want to be vigilantes, but rather because lax rule enforcement and legal protection of violent offenders forced the players to fend for themselves. The NHL can change this through stricter enforcement of key penalties. The league may need to change its approach to discipline. Typically, the league takes a consequential approach to punishment. If no major injury occurs, suspensions are minimal. Only when a player is severely injured does the league take any serious action. A more deontological approach would instill a more consistent application of the rule of law. This in turn would build respect for the referees. They already take this approach, but the penalties they are able to mete out are often insufficient.
There is an assumption amongst some observers that the NHL fan base demands violence (Greenstein, 2007). But that is only true to some extent, and is far from the case in Canada. Canadian fans tend to appreciate all aspects of the game equally, cheering as much for a penalty kill as for a fight. From the Canadian perspective, violence could be dramatically reduced as long as hard hits and fights are still allowable. It is the aggression that makes the game attractive, not the incidences of outright violence.
Football was able to manage its inherent violence, and grew into a stronger sport because of it. Referees control the field, and have the respect of players, fans and coaches alike. Hockey needs to look at this model and establish greater rule of law.
A stronger rule of law, both at the referee level and at the league level, will reduce the need for the code. In time, this rule of law will trickle down to the minor league levels as well, such that players no longer come up through the system learning about the code. It is not that aggression will be curbed, or that transgressors will skate away scot free. Reducing violence in hockey is simply a question of shifting the role of enforcement from the players to the league. This leaves the players to focus on productive aggression - the hitting, forechecking, and playmaking the fans love.
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