Hockey parents just aren’t funny anymore

Peter Jackson pjackson@thetelegram.com
Published on March 27, 2013

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. Examiner.com 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: pjackson@thetelegram.com.