Goon Squad: The pernicious effects of stigmas attached to athletes
If you’re anything like me, the first time you watch any hockey is during the playoffs. And if you’ve happened to catch any of the action on the rink, you’ve seen some of the brutal, unnecessary hits that highlight playoff hockey. As a result, you may have come to the shocking realization that most hockey players are goons and thugs, their only purpose being to hurt the opposing team in all ways, shapes and forms.
After witnessing Raffi Torres’ inexcusable hit that resulted in a record suspension of 25 games, I began to wonder what causes seemingly docile Canadians to turn into blood-crazed maniacs the moment they pick up a stick. As I surmised possible explanations for what makes these peaceful poutine eaters into goons, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t their coaches, or the rivalries, or even the chase for the Stanley Cup. The reason for their goonish behavior lies in the hands of society.
While any playoff game involving a team from Philadelphia is bound to cause some brawls, stigmas attached to hockey players by society create the sentiment that hockey players not only can, but are obligated to be excessively aggressive and physical. Although we were all entertained by Oglethorpe’s antics in Slapshot, the message sent by these movies merely exacerbates the situation through the light-hearted take on hockey players goonish behavior.
However, any red-blooded Canadian would retort that hockey is, by nature, a physical game and that brawls and late-hits are simply a byproduct of an intense and aggressive game. Although I will concede that some of hockey’s brawls are a byproduct of its nature, I’d like to adress the effect that societal stigmas have on athletes off the field as well.
Being a lifelong lax bro, I can tell you that I can quote Youtube videos like “The Ultimate Lax Bro” until the cows come home. But despite their humorous and satirical tone, these videos have a darker impact than just humor.
If you haven’t had the privilege of seeing the video, The Ultimate Lax Bro follows a day in the life of Brantford, a natty-drinking and lax loving high schooler. In practically every shot, Brantford can be seen with a beer in one hand and a lacrosse stick in the other. Although Brantford’s antics may be hilarious, he reflects the notion that all lacrosse players are natty-drinking bros.
I have seen first-hand the effects of the message sent by these videos. In the 2011 Paly Lacrosse season, a plethora of our senior leaders would take shots at halftime and smoke weed in their cars after nearly every single practice. As a result, our team imploded as we were an insubordinate, selfish, and intoxicated bunch of lunatics every time we took the field.
This wasn’t simply due to the fact that all of these seniors simply decided that taking shots was more important than winning games. No, it was the fact that these seniors thought that this was how lacrosse players were supposed to behave. They thought that they were supposed to be that way. While those seniors are, without a doubt, to be held responsible for their actions, stigmas attached to them made their behavior permissible, if not completely acceptable, in their own eyes.
As I continue to watch the NHL Playoffs unfold, I can only hope that players and coaches alike can absorb this message and make a conscious effort to combat the pernicious effects of these stereotypes. Similarly, as I see statistics which shows that mens’ lacrosse has the highest percentage of cocaine, marijuana and other narcotics users out of all other NCAA sports, I begin to wonder, what can we do as a society to change this?
If we stand idly by, this situation will further derail and we risk losing the lives of hundreds of young athletes. Our 2012 lacrosse team has taken steps to combat the effects of these stereotypes. At the beginning of the year, we pledged to have a completely dry and drug-free season. So far it has worked wonders for our performance on the field and our attitude off it. Actions like this need to be taken at all levels, from youth to professional, if we hope to cleanse our sport and its reputation.
While it may seem harmless to watch a movie like Slapshot, we mustn’t reciprocate the ideas reflected in these movies, lest we see another hockey star go down to a concussion or another youth lacrosse player succumb to drug or alcohol addiction.