Support high for sidelining violence in hockey, poll finds – Writer’s Bloc

The video of Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins pushing Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens into a post played endlessly. He went beyond sports highlight shows to open national newscasts. It even led to discussions about whether criminal charges were warranted for an in-game event.

The bodies that oversee hockey reacted differently. Some called for a reduction in bodychecking at the junior level, while others wanted an end to headbutting and fighting. A survey I conducted in 2013 for the Rick Hansen Foundation revealed a strong appetite for regulations that would protect players of all ages and skill levels.

The findings drew derision on behalf of the “tradition” of a commentator who routinely profited from hockey violence, and rejection from an amorphous online crowd who – unsurprisingly – resorted to name-calling.

The commentator is no longer a fixture on Saturday night shows and crowds are preoccupied with other causes.

Research Co. and Glacier Media wanted to take a look at the state of the game of hockey, to see if a push for rules that would reduce head injuries is supported by the general public and fans. Currently, 27% of Canadians – and 25% of self-described “true fans” of the game – believe that professional hockey has become a more violent sport over the past five years. There is a significant gender gap on this issue, with 54% of men saying the game is no longer violent now, compared to 33% of women.

In the United States, several advertising campaigns have focused on reminding the public of the dangers of traumatic brain injury in footballers of all ages. A memorable clip featuring Hall of Fame inductee Brett Favre aired on select Canadian channels.

Although the proportion of Canadians who believe that hockey is becoming more violent is not particularly high, the evolution of the sport may already discourage parents. We found that 41% of Canadians would encourage their children to avoid playing hockey following recent violent incidents. Men, who are more likely to be fans of the sport, are also more likely to keep youngsters away from the pads (50%) than their female counterparts (33%).

Since Chara’s hit on Pacioretty, the National Hockey League has implemented new injury and suspension protocols. A majority of Canadians (52%) rate the NHL’s efforts to keep its players safe as “very good” or “good,” while 18% rate it as “bad” or “very bad” and 30% are undecided. Among self-described “true hockey fans,” satisfaction with the NHL on this issue is an impressive 76%.

It may seem difficult to reconcile these results. Canadians and fans believe the NHL is succeeding in making hockey a less violent sport, but half of men aren’t particularly keen on recommending it to their sons and daughters. Even non-hockey fans have been exposed to stories describing the slow recovery of athletes who have suffered brain damage from a blow to the head or a fight.

At this point, Canadians and hockey fans agree to take action to end at least one of these sources of frustration and concern. In our poll, 80% of Canadians support banning head shots in professional hockey – a figure that rises to 89% among “true fans”.

The situation changes when we are asked to imagine professional hockey without fighting. Canadians favor this approach by a margin of two to one (60% to 29%). Among hockey fans, the idea is more controversial, with 46% supporting a ban on fighting and 49% rejecting it.

Canadians aged 55 and older are more likely to support the idea of ​​an NHL where players are not allowed to hit each other (72%) than their counterparts aged 18-34 (54%) and 35 to 54 years old (52%).

Yet a majority of Canadians in all regions do not view combat as an integral part of the game that should be preserved. Support for the ban is highest in Quebec (69%), followed by Ontario (59%), British Columbia (57%), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (also 57%), Atlantic Canada (55%) and Alberta (51%).

There are doubts about what a fighting ban would mean for hockey, with only 43% of Canadians and 28% of fans believing it would be beneficial. However, 66% of Canadians and 74% of fans believe that the game would be “better off” if hitting the head were banned from professional sports. It is obvious that a new set of rules, if implemented, would not lead to fans abandoning the game entirely.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

The findings are based on an online survey conducted December 15-17, 2021 of 1,000 adults in Canada. The data was statistically weighted according to Canadian census counts for age, sex and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.