Hockey Injury in Canadians-Bruins Game Raises Calls For Criminal or Disciplinary Action Against Bruin Zdeno Chara

Canadians are debating where to draw the line between rough sports and criminal conduct after Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty (left) was hospitalized due to a bodycheck by Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (right).

Pacioretty suffered a broken vertebra and serious concussion. However, the National Hockey League declined to discipline Chara, though the police are investigating the matter. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced “Our hockey operations people are extraordinarily comfortable with the decision that they made.” Well, fans and Pacioretty are not. While Pacioretty does not want criminal prosecution, but does believe that Chara should have been disciplined.

Likewise, Geoff Molson, chairman and owner of the Canadiens, has written the NHL that his “organization does not agree with the decision taken yesterday by the National Hockey League” and noted that violence had been a serious problem in the NHL.

We discuss this controversy in torts in the context of the case of Hackbart v. The Cincinnati Bengals involving a game between the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals in Denver in 1973. The Broncos’ defensive back, Dale Hackbart, was injured by a blow by Bengals’ offensive back, Charles “Booby” Clark. The court ruled that the hit fell outside of the NFL rules and thus Hackbart did not consent to such a battery. The reason was that the hit violated the rules of the game. However, there was no discussion of whether the rules of the NFL differed from the practices or industry custom.

By comparison, many fans want to see highly physical confrontations in NFL games. Indeed, I recall reading years ago how our teams had to “re-train” European players to be more aggressive when playing in the NHL. Those players were trained to follow the rules and avoid things like bodychecks.

The liability for sports accidents has even arisen in games like golf.

The article below recounts how there have been three cases of hockey violence since 2008.

Some judges have been less tolerant of the idea of violence being an industry custom in hockey. In the case of Dino Ciccarelli of the Minnesota North Stars, he was jailed for a day and fined him $1,000 for hitting an opposing player with his stick.

This long-standing controversy (particularly in football and hockey) presents a novel issue. In terms of consent for intentional torts, the courts have always held that there are some things that people cannot consent to such as crimes. Thus, if the underlying conduct is criminal, courts will routinely ignore consent to the conduct. The judge in the Ciccarelli case noted that he was not going to let players engage in conduct in the stadium that would be a crime just outside the stadium in the street.

Source: Forbes and CBC.

Jonathan Turley

28 thoughts on “Hockey Injury in Canadians-Bruins Game Raises Calls For Criminal or Disciplinary Action Against Bruin Zdeno Chara”

  1. Hockey is an awesome game that sometimes get sidetracked by mediocre players and bloodthirsty crowds/management. The time when it was worth watching was pre-expansion when the finesse of Bobby Orr was what wowed the crowd and the Bruins were known more for their teamwork and less for their violence…

  2. I love hockey, but only in person at the arena, it doesn’t come through on TV. Yes though, it is too damn violent as is Pro Football, Basketball and Professional Soccer (though much less so than the others). This to me is because it is sold that way. The macho undertone to almost everyone attached to a given sport. The admiration expresseed on TV for hard football hits, hockey for checks, basketball for flying elbows and necessary fouls. The macho ethic of sports is indeed our version of the Roman gladiators, though somewhat less violent. When we learn that the measure of a man isn’t how tough or violent he can be, perhaps then we will begin to learn to stop slaughtering eachother.

  3. It seems to me that before you sue/charge a player for rough play during the flow of the game, you should sue/charge players when they stop play, drop their gloves and punch each other. How is that not criminal assault?

  4. Fastest sport? I’ve tried watching some hockey, but can’t stand how often they stop play to have face-offs.

  5. With respect, Mespo, you are conflating two different issues here:

    Out of some foolish non sequitur argument that because it is the world’s fastest sport (it isn’t, that would be drag racing), fights are encouraged or at least tolerated as the referees “stand back and let ‘em have at it.”

    You are right that the argument makes no sense but that is because nobody makes that argument about fighting. You need to distinguish between fighting and the types of violence that occur during normal physical gameplay. It is the latter that is sometimes excused because of the speed of the game, sometimes for good reason, sometimes not. Of course there is a different argument made in favour of fighting, though it is far from flawless. First, fighting is a part of the tradition of the game. Second, it serves a legitimate strategic purpose: fights are used to change a games momentum and to re-engage the players on the bench after they fall behind. Fights are also not particularly dangerous because, funny as it sounds, there is an etiquette to the whole situation. As such, hockey usually only has the appearance of anarchy. Fighting is only a problem when these informal rules break down but in such cases, the league punishes players more harshly. Personally, I don’t watch hockey for fighting and I could do without it, but it also does not bother me much because it does not result in serious injuries.

    The real problem in the NHL, like the NFL, is hits to the head. This is the problem that Air Canada raised, not fighting or physical play in general as you seem to believe. The NHL needs to do a better job responding to incidents like this that can result in serious injuries and preventing them from happening. The current incident went unpunished not to look tough but because it was a freak incident that happened because of the way the players’ bench is situated on the rink. It was not flagrant or malicious conduct (which is routinely punished by suspensions). This is short-sighted by the NHL. It needs to be cracking down on headshots even if they are unintentional like this one, as the NFL has started doing, because the potential for injury is so high.

  6. I like to watch little kids play hockey. One can hardly see the child covered in all his/her equipment. As the children grow the sport becomes less and less entertaining and by high school age I no longer watch the game.

  7. Gyges,

    “I thought competitive cup stacking was the world’s fastest sport.”


  8. Anonymously Yours
    1, March 11, 2011 at 11:10 am
    Are you sure that this Blawg is not turning into a Hockey rink….sure seems like it sometimes….


    Aw put a puck in it you ^%#*-*@#$ … ok, that was not free speech, that was free symboling ….

    🙂 – presence of smiley shows mischievous intent

  9. Bob, Esq.,

    Slap Shot is my favorite Newman movie ever made – kudos for the clip … I love the Hanson Bros. 😀

  10. Paul Newman considered Slap Shot one of his favorite movies he ever made.

  11. Raff, if it is on ESPN, then it must be a sport. So there.

    This may sound like a joke, but when our local mega-automobile dealer got married to his latest trophy wife a while back, the wedding in Atlanta was covered by one of the sports channels.

  12. I agree with Mespo’s comments about the refs just allowing it to happen. In football if punches are thrown the parties are usually ejected and they are even more heavily padded than the hockey players. I usually turn off the Hawks games if they are just allowing the fights to happen. The NHL won’t admit it, but they want the fights to occur because it puts people in the seats. They even routinely refer to certain players as the “enforcer” who is supposed to defend his buddies on the ice.
    As to the worlds fastest sports, I have to suggest that I don’t consider any activity where some drives a motorized vehicle as a “sport”. If you are not running or jumping on your own legs, it isn’t a sport!

  13. You think that you have bad behavior from players in the NBA etc… I think that almost all of the people that play hockey have criminal inclinations……

    You know where the Marines go that get kick out for mental illness…..The NHL….

  14. Are you sure that this Blawg is not turning into a Hockey rink….sure seems like it sometimes….

    I do not follow Hockey….I know some that are die hards…and come to think of it blow hards… it just makes not sense to go to a fight and have a Hockey game break out…

  15. mespo,

    Well said. Particularly your point that referee’s stand there while the players pummel each other.

    Yes, hockey is a violent sport but there needs to be a line drawn between what is considered entertainment, and what is blatant criminal assault.

  16. mespo, I could not agree more. I have thought this for years.

    Just to pick a nit, drag racing is not the fastest sport. That honor goes to the Reno Air Races. A sport definitely not for the faint of heart or slow of reflexes, speeds routinely exceed five hundred miles per hour.

  17. Hockey is pathetic because it fails to control or even recognize gratuitous violence in its game. Out of some foolish non sequitur argument that because it is the world’s fastest sport (it isn’t, that would be drag racing), fights are encouraged or at least tolerated as the referees “stand back and let ’em have at it.” Violent checks and outright flagrant fouls draw nothing more than lip service from the league out of some macho notion of manhood. The league commissioner relishes he role as designated “tough guy” with no sensitivity to sponsors like Air Canada who’ve threatened to withdraw sponsorship dollars unless the league cleans up its act. All in all the exhibition on ice deserves its place as a niche sport limited in popularity to Canada. northeastern U.S., and some out the way Midwest enclaves like Detroit and Chicago.

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