Hockey parents just aren’t funny anymore

Peter Jackson
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Sports are not only fun, they serve a purpose.

They bring out some of the more admirable qualities of the human spirit: endurance, tenacity, teamwork, as well as grace and dignity in defeat.

It seems, however, the latter part of this equation has been all but forgotten in many quarters. Yes, laments for poor sportsmanship are frequent and tedious, but lately it seems bad behaviour has gone beyond the pale.

Some kids’ actions are atrocious. Their parents’, even more so.

In Massachusetts in 2002, hockey dad Thomas Junta was convicted of manslaughter after a violent altercation with another child’s father resulted in the man’s death. He was released from jail two years ago.

You’d think this sort of thing would send a signal. Yet childish name-calling and fistfights still abound.

Last month, a hockey dad in Manitoba was banned from attending further games after repeated verbal outbursts. This past Sunday, a video surfaced on YouTube showing parents at a rink in Tweed, Ont., verbally and physically attacking each other.

There’s an aggravating factor here, whether sports enthusiasts want to acknowledge it or not. It is the near religious fervour our national obsession has spawned.

Hockey has been elevated to a separate place in society. It’s much like a church, with its own canon law. As if the symbolism couldn’t get any more blunt, the delayed NHL opener this year in Montreal featured old hockey heroes passing around a torch in the darkness, like some sort of communion of saints.

Lip service is paid to sportsmanship, but the primal urge to win at all costs still tends to burst through in unseemly ways.

I’ve witnessed young children in the stands yelling for blood as players clash on the ice. Little Johnny would never get away with it at home or in a classroom, but at the rink he has immunity. Angry, visceral screams.

And the parents can be even worse.

I came across an interesting study this week. posted an article on a recent Harvard sociology study that surveyed the behaviour of parents in various sports.

The author, Hilary Levey Friedman, found that, by far, hockey brought out the worst in people.

Hockey, she said, creates “parents who show no regard for life, body parts, or fairness, and no mercy on their opponents — even when they’re little kids.”

Of course, it’s not only hockey.

“Hilary compared parents from eight sporting activities: swimming, football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, child beauty pageants, academic competition,” reported The Examiner. “She found examples of physical and verbal altercations from each activity and determined football and hockey to have the craziest parents, with hockey beating out football.”

If there is any story that portrays a total shattering of decency and perspective, it is the unfathomable anger directed at a recent teen victim of rape in Steubenville, Ohio.

Two star high school football players were convicted of raping a drunken teen and distributing nude photos of her. The reaction should have been one of horror and disgust, and it was. Problem is, much of it was directed at the victim.

It’s hard to imagine what planet someone would have to be on to condemn and even threaten a rape victim. But in this case, it happened in a community where the worship of sports heroes utterly warped the perspective of friends, family and even some media.

Give credit where credit is due. Most schools and amateur sports leaders try hard to instil basic values, including cracking down hard on bad behaviour. But it doesn’t seem to be working, and there’s every reason to suggest parents are one of the primary causes.

Hockey should be inspiring. It should be a forum for excellence. Too often, it becomes a conduit for senseless rage.

The stereotype of the hockey parent acting badly is just not funny anymore.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email:

Organizations: NHL, Harvard

Geographic location: Massachusetts, Manitoba, Montreal

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Recent comments

  • Colin Burke
    March 30, 2013 - 08:24

    "Hockey should be inspiring. It should be a forum for excellence." And when players fail to play as if inspired or to achieve technical excellence, hell breaks loose. The comparison with religion is apt, and the quotation from this column shows just how apt even in the case of (apparently) irreligious columnists. "When people cease to believe in God, they don't believe in nothing. They believe in anything."

  • former HNL Referee
    March 29, 2013 - 14:14

    i spent many years officiating hockey in Nfld both recreation adult hockey and minor hockey. it took me a while to learn that certain players were exempt from the rules. I always tried to call the game as i seen it and felt pretty crappy if i made a questionable call that resulted in the final outcome. the confederation cup was coming to the province and games were to be played in my area, as a Level 3 i was qualified to referee the games but the night before the games, i received a call from my Referee supervisor, a HNL representative telling me that i was not to officiate any games. during our 3 hour conversation i learned the reason. I was not to referee any games for that tournament because I was calling the rules for all players and there were scouts at the games and certain players were being scouted. im thankful that during all my years of officiating, no player was seriously injured, i was threatened, assaulted, attacked with sticks, never by the minor hockey players but by coaches and fans. i never received any support from HNL, in fact I was considered the cause. good luck to all minor hockey players this coming week, to all coaches and parents and guardians drive safely and please remember, " it's just a game" let the kids enjoy it.

  • Scared for life
    March 28, 2013 - 10:10

    This recent punishment to an innocent child in Clarenville reminds me of what our son endured at 10 years of age. Our son didn't nothing wrong and neither did we in our eyes as we took him home from a tournament due to the lack of respect of the coaches and parents and for the well being of our son. The coaches who were A team coaches as well as house league coaches punished our son by kicking him off the team. An innocent child was punished and these coaches and their kids frowned upon our son for many years after. It has scarred our son for life but he is much the better person for it today. Those coaches has kids who they thought were going to make it to the NHL. Guess what, what goes around comes around. Neither of their kids have made it to the big league and both men are the idiots here. As for HNL, they did nothing to protect the rights of our innocent son. I see that they intervened with Minor Hockey in Clarenville recently and that kid was put back on the team. Many that stepped down from the executive returned to it. Goes to show what cowards are really out there and that a full new slate should have been in order. Shame on adults for punishing innocent kids!

  • Danny
    March 28, 2013 - 00:12

    A few yrs ago I was involved with pro hockey.While our team was taking shots during warm up before a game 2 men in the stands began berating our goalie.Amazed we all could not help but laugh as an older lady hit both men in the head with her purse.She was my grand mother :)

  • Sad but true...
    March 27, 2013 - 15:18

    This is my Sons 1st year playing hockey in a small town here in NL--I was appauled by the imaturity of parents on our own team--Ive had to listen to them back bite each other because their child was better than another, down the coach, because his son had more ice time and go as far as to say I hope its a body brought off the ice when an opposing team member fell on the ice..yes, he wished death upon the child...a 10 year old little child!...I was mortified to be sitting with these parents and did everything to hold back from expressing my outrage and embarrasement for this moron of a Father!! -after the game, I apoligized to the other teams parents and hoped they wouldn't tar us all with the one brush! Its such a sad situation to see this kind of conduct happening in todays such a level of hockey..ATOMS-most of which are 10 and 11 year old!..To all hockey Moms and Dads out there...Please remember, these are our precious Children-who DO learn what they live!!!!

  • Whaddaya At
    March 27, 2013 - 10:59

    Several years ago , while standing next to a woman who was cheering loudly for her son's hockey team at a local arena, a woman whose son played on the opposing team approached her and said, ' how'd you like a punch in da f - - - - n head' ?. The sad part, unfortunately, is that the angry mother with the foul mouth would pass her ' values ' on to her young son who was simply enjoying playing a game of hockey with friends.