A Qualitative Cross-Check of Hockey Violence Essay

Ice hockey in North America has over a century of notoriety for its physical and aggressive behaviour beyond the normal rules of the game; a style of play that would normally be considered violent or unlawful when conducted off-ice. When compared to similar contact sports (i. e. : football, rugby, lacrosse), professional hockey is the only sport that condones fighting; emphasized by the fact that fighting at the professional level is merely a penalty (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 301), not a game ejection.

However, sometimes the on-ice male aggression is carried off the ice – away from the game. Many athletes, in particular hockey players, have been highlighted in the media for their physical display of violence (i. e. : fighting other men) and have obtained an abusive and misogynistic reputation towards women (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 291). The purpose of this paper will evaluate the qualitative study, Athlete Aggression on the Rink and off the Ice: Athlete Violence and Aggression in Hockey and Interpersonal Relationships, by Nick T. Papas, Patrick C. McKenry and Beth Skilken Catlett (2004) in an attempt to recognize the rhythm of qualitative research design; to become familiar with reading and making sense of published qualitative studies (course assignment). I will address various pre-determined questions as outlined in the research assignment and conclude with my own perspective on this type of qualitative research. My Background in Hockey

The first author maintains an “extensive involvement in the culture of ice hockey” much like my own (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 297). With over thirty years of hockey experience, my views of the sport favour the aggressive style of the game; with a perspective of violence that usually differs from those who have not played hockey. Where most outsiders see violence, I see aggressive plays. However, this paper will attempt to keep a balanced perspective of the study and the subject of violence pertaining to hockey players.

The Game Plan

The researchers begin by using a method of subjectivism to correlate, or cross-check, various quantitative and qualitative studies of violence in ice hockey, including off-ice incidents, through qualitative observations from the perspective of veteran players or social actors (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008, p. 15). The research method intends to reveal objective truths (class notes) to the accusation that hockey breeds violent people, that they are especially violent off the ice, and that they are violent within interpersonal relationships (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 91).

The study also raises concerns about the off-ice violence conducted by athletes and the sexual aggression they impose on women (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 292) – a serious topic that should be addressed, especially when older players influence young children learning how to play the game. The research is primarily an exploratory attempt; “to explore the causes and/or consequences” (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008, p. 27), and to learn more about the violent behaviour of hockey players from the perspective of those who play the game.

Based on the testimonies of five informants, the study used five prearranged questions and subsequent branching questions (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 297) that was directed by structured interviews, audiotaped, and transcribed. The transcription was then analyzed and “conducted by two independent coders” (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 298) to give special labels to their empirical data (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008, p. 128). The informants were veteran hockey players who had an intimate insider’s view of the game – four of which were previously coached by the interviewer; one informant was a referral (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 97). The strength of the sampling procedure is because most of the participants know researcher; offering a sense of trust that provided the opportunity to reveal more confidential information (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 297).

However, the small number of informants, in my opinion, weakens the findings – five players may not be enough to represent the broad perspective of hockey players. To ensure privacy and confidentiality, the researcher permitted the informants to determine their own settings, such as their homes (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 97-298), but one ethical concern regarding the interviews would be revealing any unethical behavior(s) of teammates that could incriminate them. With only a small number of players on a team (i. e. : 20-30), it would not be difficult, through investigation, to determine which player acted inappropriately. Knowing the Roles The qualitative study of hockey violence from an insider’s perspective is an excellent avenue for outsiders to further understand the behaviour of hockey players beyond statistics and media coverage.

However, what stood out for me in the study are two things, one (1) the study’s definition of violence in hockey and two (2) the common debate about fighting in hockey. First, the researcher defines violence, in my opinion, quite vaguely: Violence is defined as male-to-male physical sport-related violence, male-to-male physical out-of-sport interpersonal violence, and male-to-female physical, sexual, and emotional aggression and abuse. (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 293)

While the study provides many testimonials of violence surrounding the game of hockey such as: “[…] at least once a weekend, there would probably be a fight […]” (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 299) or ,“I think [hockey’s] a place for violence to come out – because it’s allowed” (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 300), the definition of violence in the study, as stated previously, can be construed as inclusive of the legal acts of aggression within the rules of the game. Therefore, in my opinion, the study needs to clarify that legal acts of aggression are not violent.

For example, a clean bodycheck within the rules of the game, even if it results in injury, is not considered violent – rather an unfortunate consequence of the game. Second, as one of the informants testified, “[…] hockey players instigating fights is part of the game […]” (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 299) and continues to be a major aspect of the sport. While fighting can be considered brutish and Neanderthal from an outsider’s perspective, it is still the primary means players use to enforce the unwritten rules: thou shalt not hit opposing goalie and thou shalt not injure best players (i. . : Wayne Gretzky was protected on the ice by a trained boxer, Dave Semenko). Hockey players consider fighting a deterrent for those who purposely inflict career ending injures, such as concussions. Those who injure or attempt to injure an opposing player will usually find themselves in a fight. By clarifying the definition of violence and establishing the purpose of fighting, the study may be able to separate the players that are consistently prone to excessive on-ice violence (i. e. : with intent to injure) from the players that play the role of the bodychecker or the fighter.

It is possible that the roles that players are asked to play on the ice may not transfer to similar roles off the ice. Analyzing the Playbook Evidence of triangulation, use of multiple research methods or sources for researching data (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008, p. 292-293; Chenail, 1997, p. 1), is demonstrated throughout the study through comparisons of empirical data, informant testimonials, and references to similar sources. The strategy of triangulation is used “to support [the findings] by showing that independent measures of it agree with it or […] don’t contradict it” (Mathison, 1988, p. 3). In some cases, the researcher included percentages relating to athletes use of alcohol and physical force to obtain sexual favors (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 292); which would later be used to compare to the testimonials of the informants. Other cases included consistency of the testimonials with the findings of another source (i. e. : Crosset) (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 302). However, triangulation offers mostly an estimated assumption by the researcher based on the data obtained and the evidence can often be inconsistent or contradictory (Mathison, 1988, p. 13).

Convergence of the data, where data from different sources or collected from different methods agree; can also produce skeptical results (Mathison, 1988, p. 15). For example, the researcher may have interpreted some of the testimonials as agreeing to a particular point of view, but upon review the informants actually disagree. Alternatively, the researcher could have had the informants perform a “member check” (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008, p. 292) to verify the findings; to limit any skepticism or personal opinions of the researcher.

Time Out to Assess the Game

The researcher’s findings indicate that hockey players often carry their on-ice aggression off-ice into their personal relationships. It also indicates that while some players are innately violent before they played hockey, other players develop aggressive behaviours as result of the sport (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 307). The study also contemplates further research should focus on the particularly aggressive or prolific offenders (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 307), for which I agree; separating out the players that prefer skill versus those that prefer violence.

Additionally, the findings concur with my own experience that players were often encouraged to commit violent acts by coaches, teammates, fans (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 308), and even parents (including both mother and father) who often enticed their sons to retaliate (i. e. : “Don’t let him get away with that! ”). Lastly, I disagree with the findings that players were judged by their teammates of “their willingness to fight” as a sign of competence (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 308); for most players fighting was usually done in ill-tempered retaliation or in self-defence – not sought out.

In hockey, like similar sports, players usually know their role on the team (e. g. : physical, finesse, goal-scorer, etc. ) and, in my opinion, are judged more for their role than lack of violence. Final Minute of the Game Overall, the study was interesting, for I can relate to hockey being a violent outlet for some people. While I found the study might have been too broad in scope to reveal any conclusive evidence that hockey breeds violence, it did provide what it set out to do; it was “plumb” (Chenail, 1997, p. ). That is, it provided a greater understanding of the contributing factors of the violence in hockey, specifically off the ice including “[the] consumption of alcohol and the objectification of women” (Pappas et al, 2008, p. 291).

The ethnographical method brought an insider’s perspective and often complemented the qualitative data by simply giving it a voice: […] all of the participants in this study discussed the common role of alcohol in the lives of hockey players. Pappas et al, 2004, p. 304) Rather than a just a number: […] 28 percent [of athletes] reported using alcohol and drugs to obtain sexual favors. (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 292) The study highlighted the negative affects of sports, in particular hockey, when combined with alcohol. As one informant confessed: “[…] there wasn’t one sober, off-ice violence [incident] that I ever witnessed or heard of or anything – never” (Pappas et al, 2004, p. 305).

Alcohol, from my experience playing at the non-professional elite levels, turns mild mannered talented players into rage machines; Usually, these players have hidden issues that alcohol unmasks; liberating them from their troubles with family, friends, or intimate relationships. Overtime Win While there are many examples in this study that would portray hockey players as violent people, there is no conclusive evidence, in my opinion, that players are innately violent by nature.

However, I do agree with the findings that players are often encouraged and fueled by alcohol when they commit violent acts (Pappas et al, 2008, p. 309). This study could be explored further and focused more specifically on hockey and its’ relation to alcohol. The findings of such a study may be enough to help save the lives of young athletes from alcohol related deaths or even improve the relationships of existing athletes with alcohol dependencies; at the same time it may help promote a healthy sport.


Chenail, R.J. (1997). Keeping Things Plumb in Qualitative Research. Nova Souteastern University (database)

Eriksson, P. and Kovalainen, A (2008). Qualitative Methods in Business Research. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications Inc.

Mathison. S. (1988). Why Triangulate?  Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 13-17. American Educational Research Association (SFU database)

Pappas, N.T., McKenry, P.C., and Catlett, B.S. (2004). Athlete Aggression on the Rink and off the Ice: Athlete Violence and Aggression in Hockey and Interpersonal Relationships Men and Masculinities 2004 6: 291