This column originally appeared in the Vaughan Citizen.
This week, the Canadian Press published a story about a recorded locker room fight. The video, which was posted on Facebook, featured two teenagers from the Vaughan Panthers Minor Midget A team. The story cited a report that likened the bout to a “fight club”.
When I first heard the story break on CP24 and CityTV, I imagined a gamut of bloodied and beaten kids viciously scrapping.
On Feb. 20, The Star released the “disturbing video” that “unfolds like a scene from the film Fight Club.”
In the video, two teenage boys clad in hockey gloves and helmets tamely swing at each other while their friends laugh and cheer them on. I thought to myself, ‘This is the highly controversial fight club I’ve been hearing about?’
The ritual is a well-known hockey pasttime called “buckets and gloves”. To be honest, the first thought that came to my mind was that there are a lot worse things these young people could be doing than goofing around and playfighting in a locker room.
As a 21-year-old male, I can remember far more destructive ways youth I knew would spend their leisure time. The meek, playful scuffle compared to a fight club is no different than the horsing around that takes place in basements and recreation rooms across the country. Am I condoning the behaviour? No. But it is not as big a deal as it was blown up to be.
Let’s face it. Teenagers at that age like to act tough and imitate their idols. In my day, it was World Championship Wrestling and WWE wrestling. Now, MMA, or mixed martial arts fighting is more popular. The reason why violence is glorified in the media is a deeper and altogether separate issue. But for a newspaper to publish a headline saying “Fight club shocks parents” is quite simply laughable.
Shocking? Not at all, says veteran Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) coach and sports psychology professor Paul Dennis. He said he has never personally witnessed locker room fighting, but has heard about it from colleagues. He said he is against the practice because it distracts from the game. He also acknowledged the potential safety risks, such as falling and colliding with an inconveniently placed skate or clothing hook.
Obviously, few people would advocate kids fighting in a locker room. I am not saying young people hitting eachother in a locker room is OK. But I do feel the way the story was presented was blew it out of proportion.
The idea that any parent is “shocked” by young teenage males playfighting is absurd. If parents are unaware that they do this kind of thing for fun, the real issue is that the parents need to get up to speed with what their kids are doing.
The reason the story got so much attention is because the coach is seen standing idly by and not intervening. If the video was recorded in someone’s basement no one would be hooting and hollering over it.
Yes, the coach should have told the teens to stop. The fighting was not related to the game and it was not the time or place for it. But it’s not like the kids are swinging crowbars and knives at eachother. The fact that they’re wearing gloves and helmets already makes it safer than what many teens do for fun. They’re not even hitting eachother particularly hard. A fight club and a locker room playfight are two fundamentally different things.
In actuality, the story was just another reason to put hockey under the microscope. Hockey has frequently been accused of desensitizing us to violence in sport. That may very well be true in some cases, but it is not in this instance. The GTHL actively discourages aggressive play and the fact that these kids were fighting in a locker room while wearing hockey gear is mere coincidence.
Furthremore, what the kids were doing is not illegal, says Insp. Doug Conley of the York Regional Police in the Canadian Press story. It is however, against GTHL rules. But at the end of the day, it is teens goofing around and not the deplorable fight club the media made it out to be.
Personally, I’m more concerned that kids were recording this on camera in a locker room. Who knows what else they have been filming? We can only hope that future videos will enlighten these shocked parents on what is not-so-shocking teenage behaviour.