“I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out” has become a common stereotype saying in North America. Aggression and violence in ice hockey is not an uncommon phenomenon and is generally considered an aggressive/violent sport by the public due to its high physical play. The National Hockey League (NHL) is very well known for its tolerance towards rough and aggressive play with fights in the 2014-2015 season occurring in almost 30% of games. It is generally argued that Ice Hockey in North America is by nature more aggressive and violent compared to European hockey where stricter regulations are enforced in order to decrease the prevalence of violent acts such as fighting. In fact, fighting in ice hockey has a long history and by now has become an established tradition in North America (Bernstein 2006).
Berdemier‘s (1983) defines aggression as any intentional initiation of violent (physical, verbal or nonverbal) and/or injurious behavior (harmful intentions or actions). In other words, aggression is an act that cannot be accidental and involves either or both physical (bodily) or psychological (mental) harm. In this context, aggression or aggressive behavior in sport can thus include dangerous tackles, verbal abuse or intentional fouls.
Nonetheless, tolerated hockey violence and aggression can have a large influence on the behavior and attitude of various hockey fanatic cultures. One example where hockey fueled violence was carried into the streets are the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals between Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks. During the finals, up to 17 game misconducts (ejections from the game) were given to players which was significantly higher than the two predeceasing Stanley Cup Finals of 2010 (2) and 2009 (5). Following the final game of the finals, Vancouver fans rioted in the city of Vancouver causing much destruction and many injuries as a result. Another example can be observed in the minor leagues where children and youth have admitted to copying illegal tactics from watching televised NHL games (Keays and Pless, 2013)
A theory, referred to as the culture spillover theory, may help explain such effect. The theory was introduced by Baron and Straus (1987) and later tested by Bloom and Smith (1996) as a possible theoretical explanation for a “spillover effect” of hockey violence into other cultures. Specifically, culture spillover theory claims that the more a society tends to legitimate the use of violence to attain ends for which there is widespread social approval, the greater the likelihood of illegitimate violence (Bloom & Smith 1996). In other words, increased tolerance towards violence in ice hockey could potentially lead to a larger likelihood of violence portrayed by the same society
With ice hockey being one of the most anticipated events in this years Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, it will be interesting to see how the North American violent hockey culture spills over to the international environment. However, these Winter Olympics games are very unique as it is the first time in history where the National Hockey League has not allowed its players to partake in the games. As such, we will keep a close eye on the upcoming games to observe how violent they truly are and whether the sudden abundance of players from the NHL will have an impact on the amount of penalty minutes, game misconducts and other ‘violent’ attributes. Stay with us as we take you Beyond The Bench during the winter olympic games.