Growing up in Toronto, Canada I have been around the hockey culture since I was just a baby. I was two years old when I was put on the ice for the first time and ended up playing hockey for twelve years at a high level. Even though I do not play organized hockey anymore it is still something I am very passionate about and always will be. Being something I am passionate about and having played it for more than half my life I decided to look deeper into just how the game of hockey and specifically the players are portrayed in the media. Living in Toronto does not really give me a good representation because hockey is life there and people can only say good things about hockey players. So how are hockey players and the game portrayed in the media outside of the hockey centre of the world? Hockey players are often portrayed in the media in a way that does not truly represent them as individuals. I focused on how hockey players are depicted in films and in shows about hockey. What I found is that hockey players are shown as not the smartest people, fighters, and very masculine.
The first artifact I looked at was the movie Goon which was directed by Michael Dowse and written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg. Goon is a comedy movie that focuses on a guy who has never played hockey before and how he gets signed to a hockey team just to be a fighter. There were many instances in this movie that I found to be interesting. Two are the main character cannot skate to begin with and the amount of hockey fights there are. I find the fact that the main character cannot skate to start interesting because he gets signed to a hockey team after the general manager sees him fight on a video and then he moves up the ranks of hockey. This would never happen in real life. No hockey team would ever sign a guy just because he is a good fighter. All the fighters who play high level of hockey are also good players. They may not be the most skilled but they can contribute to the game outside of being a fighter. I found the amount of fights they show to be interesting because it is such an unrealistic amount it is comical, which I’m sure they were going for. In real hockey there is probably on average one fight every other game for a team but in this movie there is a fight almost every shift it seems like. Hockey players are not fighters which is what this movie seems to be portraying. Hockey players are hockey players and yes some also fight but they are hockey players first. Fighting is being phased out of hockey as the game changes so the amount of players that a actually fight is slim.
The second artifact I used was the movie Slap Shot that was directed by George Roy Hill and written by Nancy Dowd. It is about a hockey team that resorts to violent play to get more popularity and one of the ways they do that is by signing three brothers that are considered goons. The two details I found most interesting in this movie are the hockey players are all portrayed to be very masculine and the fact that the owner is focused more on selling hockey to the fans than creating a winning team. Seeing the hockey players being portrayed as very masculine is revealing that hockey is seen as a very masculine sport in popular culture and therefore the players are also very masculine. I found the fact that the owner is more worried about getting fans than creating a good team to be strange because even thought hey ended up becoming a good team, no owner would ever do anything that puts the success of the team at risk which is exactly what happened in the movie.
The third artifact I used was clips from Coaches Corner which is a segment featured between periods on Hockey Night in Canada. Broadcasted by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). It discusses what has happened the last week in the hockey world and is lead by Don Cherry, a former player and coach in the NHL. One thing I found interesting from the Coaches Corner clips was just how much Don Cherry praises the tough players and the players who fight. If someone who does not really watch or follow hockey was stop just watch Coaches Corner than they may think more hockey players fight than do. He praises the tough players over and over again throughout the clip and from what I can remember while watching him every Saturday night growing up. To him they are the most valuable players in the NHL and a perfect example of what a hockey player should be. This is unfortunate because people who watch his program will just agree with him if they do not watch much hockey and that is a very single minded viewpoint. Tough players and players who fight are definitely important in the NHL but to say they are what all players should be or are, is just simply wrong. More players than not are more skill oriented and it is too bad they do not get the air time or discussion on Coaches Corner as they should.
I think that there is a lot of fighting shown and many movies are based on that aspect of the game because that is what will sell the best and bring in the most viewers. I think this is why it is focused on so much even though it is a very small part of the game. In today’s society we are all about making money and that is a great way to do it. After viewing the two movies it was pretty evident that the notion that hockey players are dumb comes from popular culture because of films and other media over the years that have portrayed hockey players in that light. It is especially too bad for the tough players and the “fighters” because they are the ones who get portrayed as the dumbest. In reality, hockey players are very intelligent and hockey is a sport that in itself you have to be a bright person to play it at a high level and the “fighters” are in many cases one of the smartest players on every team. Just because that is their role on the team and they want to do all they can to help their team win does not mean they a dumb.
The first secondary source I found is a scholarly journal that was written by Kristi A Allain who was a student at Trent University in Canada at the time. The journal focuses on Sidney Crosby, who is wildly regarded the best player in the world right now. Sydney Crosby is considered the model of Canadian masculinity and a national identity. However his image is mostly shaped by the media. “What is particularly interesting about Crosby, is the way his identity has been constructed by the public, and by the various media that report on him in contradictory ways” (Allain 5). The media has portrayed Crosby as a rough and tough Canadian superstar that is here to save hockey but also a whiney prima donna. This just goes to show how the media can shed a different light on someone than may be true. The media tries so hard to label people, in this case Crosby, as something that will sell. It does not matter if it necessarily true as long as it makes money. None of those journalists who have called Crosby those things know him personally so they really should not be saying what and who he is.
The second secondary source I found is an article from the Los Angeles Times that was written by Karen Kaplan in 2013. The article discusses a study that researchers from the Injury Prevention Research Office and the Division of Neurosurgery at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto constructed to see if the media is partly to blame for an increase in brain injuries. They studied many different newspapers and noticed that the media is almost encouraging the aggressive play that often leads to head injuries. I was not surprised to learn that these newspapers are encouraging this type of play because of the three primary artifacts I reviewed and how violent concentrated they were. People read this news and see that this aggressive style of play is being praised and talked about all the time so they want to go play the game of hockey like that because they think it is the right way. A lot of head injuries for younger kids in hockey is caused by someone just not knowing how to properly play the game or what is right and what is wrong. It seems obvious that the way the media portrays the game of hockey and its players is now getting to the point where it is actually dangerous to the players.
The media portrays the game of hockey and its players in a way that will benefit them the most so they focus on the violent aspects of the game and praise the tough players more than anyone else. For myself this was magnified when I came to the USA for school and when I would tell people that I had played hockey for twelve years they would tell me of how tough of a sport they hear hockey is and they would ask me about hockey fights. Those were the first things most people went to which just goes to show how much the media has an affect on people. The truth is I’m no more tough than the next guy. Sure hockey is tough sport to play but that does not make all the players tough people. Just because someone looks tough on the ice in the middle of a game does not mean they are tough outside of the game. Hockey players are just regular people like everybody else.
Kid Crosby or Golden Boy: Sidney Crosby, Canadian national identity, and the policing of hockey masculinity
International Review for the Sociology of Sport March 2011 46: 3-22, first published on August 9, 2010
Goon. Alliance Films, 2011. Film.
Slap Shot. Universal, 1977. Film.
Kaplan, Karen. “Is the Media to Blame for the Brain Injuries of Hockey Players?” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 17 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 May 2015.