Patterico's Pontifications


Is a Hockey Fight Criminal?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:35 pm

Normally, you would think it is not. But is there any point where the line is crossed into criminal behavior?

Hockey is known as a violent sport but things took a turn for the worse on Saturday night between the Colorado Eagles and Odessa Jackalopes in an exhibition game.

After six fights in the first two minutes of the third period, Colorado player Brad Macmillian sucker-punched unaware Jacks player Dave Van Drunen, who then crumpled to the ice before a melee ensued.

Van Drunen suffered a broken jaw and broken nose and had surgery on Sunday morning to insert five plates and 18 screws.

. . . .

The Jacks confirmed that they have pressed charges against Macmillian and that more charges could be filed against others involved in the incident.

Perfect fodder for Internet debate. Go to it.

48 Responses to “Is a Hockey Fight Criminal?”

  1. I think criminal behavior is possible in any sport, including boxing and kick-boxing; appropriately prosecuting it is another issue. It should not be a legitimate goal in any sport to cause injury that would threaten the person’s ability to continue to play the sport. Even in boxing and kick-boxing, where causing a concussion to put a person momentarily unconscious is part of the sport, it is possible to act in a malicious way causing unnecessary and permanent disability. The issue would come up in a boxing match, for example, where the ref called the fight but the aggressor continued the attack until physically restrained. I had a patient whose kick-boxing career was ended when he took a direct frontal blow to a knee which was illegal (I believe) and also destroyed about anything that can be destroyed in a knee, preventing him from ever competing again.

    In hockey and pro football it might be hard for a grand jury to agree on what should and should not be considered criminal. “Sucker-punching” someone and causing severe injury I think is criminal. I think a deliberate use of the helmet to spear a player in the head/neck should be criminal. Of course, you run into the problem of “is it a 5 or 15 yard face-mask call” (which I guess they have done away with now).

    Otherwise, we’re talking about legitimizing “Rollerball”.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  2. I remember Juan Marichal beating Johnny Roseboro with a baseball bat during a game, apparently objecting to catcher Roseboro’s throws back to the mound that came too close to his head.

    This assault with a deadly weapon was never charged.

    Kevin M (298030)

  3. In the instance of a sucker punch….Yeah, maybe.

    Fighting is a part of hockey and the players know that, but it’s usually a mutual endeavor. You have to give the opponent a chance to “drop the gloves” or it’s a cowardly battery.

    Patrick (0162d3)

  4. Hockey is better than watching those soccer pansies in the World Cup.

    daleyrocks (940075)

  5. According to this report, the game was in Colorado and charges were filed there:

    Jackalopes owner Rick Gasser confirmed that he had filed assault charges against MacMillan on Saturday night and asked for the Eagles’ forward to be arrested not once or twice, but three times, and was rebuked each time.

    DRJ (d43dcd)

  6. I agree with Patrick’s comment above. Fighting is a part of hockey, for better or for worse, but there is a code to how a fight is to be conducted. Sucker punching someone falls way outside the code and should never be tolerated. Aside from the charges, the offending player should be suspended from the league for at least the same eight weeks that the injured player is expected to miss.

    JVW (eccfd6)

  7. The league should take serious action against him, but it should not be considered a criminal offense. In these physical games, tempers often flair, and all players should observe the boxing instruction to “protect yourself at all times.”

    It is hard to find criminality when one of the oldest jokes is “I went to a fight – and a hockey game broke out!”

    Adjoran (ec6a4b)

  8. IIRC several Canadian jurisdictions have gone after hockey “goons” at the NHL level for fights that turned out a bit one-sided.

    AD-RtR/OS! (051c59)

  9. Not so much the sucker punch but the severity of the injury — I would call it great bodily harm — would make it criminal in my view. It went beyond hockey’s usual grabassing. In most jurisdictions, deadly force in self-defense would be considered justifiable and that’s what the criminal law wants to prevent.

    nk (db4a41)

  10. “Van Drunen suffered a broken jaw and broken nose and had surgery on Sunday morning to insert five plates and 18 screws”.

    That is not entertainment. I don’t know enough about the law to comment on if the punch was criminal, but sucker punching someone that hard should never be tolerated, even if “hockey is a violent sport”.

    tyree (7b5ab9)

  11. Going back to my first year classes, i believe the law says that if the attack is considered normal in the sport, no crime. So punching a guy in boxing, or tackling a guy in football, is generally not considered assault. This is even true if it is a late hit, etc.

    On the other hand i think if they chose to charge mike tyson with a crime for deliberately biting off hollyfield’s ear, that probably would have been a crime. i mean you might imagine that kind of thing to happen accidentally, but not deliberately. btw, did anyone ever charge tyson with a crime when he did that?

    hockey is a tougher call because, on one hand, it was a sucker punch and apparently a really violent one. on the other hand, most people would say fighting is part of hockey. but on the third hand, hockey officially pretends it is not to be tolerated, etc. i think i need to see the video, so i will track it down sometime.

    certainly the fact this led to forfeiture says alot in my mind. the coach thought it was way beyond the pale.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  12. There was the NHL game where a player came from behind and slashed at another player’s neck. It was extremely blatant. I can’t remember the name of the player though. I know there was talk about pressing charges, but I don’t know what came of it.

    Ty (635f57)

  13. Hey, you lawyers out there…how does the Odessa team have standing to bring assault charges? A civil action, maybe. Van Drunen certainly would, though.

    Ron (ab4210)

  14. Ty, the assault by Todd Bertuzzi

    SPQR (26be8b)

  15. SPQR, it’s not that one. This guy slashed with his stick at a steep angle, almost like swinging an ax when you are splitting wood.

    Ty (635f57)

  16. My eight year old fights with black belts (her instructors) in the last ten minutes of her karate class. They “hit” back at her but soft.

    I guess that’s where I think the problem was here. The punch should not have been harder than necessary for the spectators’ entertainment. Definitely no broken jaw.

    nk (db4a41)

  17. Ty, SPQR,

    I am vaguely amused that there are so many fights in hockey that its easy to get two confused. :-)

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  18. Fighting is a part of hockey

    Why must it be so, exactly? I mean other than “it always has been” and that’s the way you like it.

    Reminds me of professional wrestling.

    quasimodo (4af144)

  19. The saying “I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out” says a lot. I followed high school and college hockey since I was a kid and admired finesse over brawn in the game. Couldn’t understand why the NFL owners didn’t put an end to the needless brawling. But there is a reason. The fans love it.

    There was a point when the owners appeared concerned. But they continue to hire “enforcers.” These are B league players of marginal talent but with the size and mentality to right the wrongs officials miss. If someone takes a swipe at a goalie in the crease, or the francise player is tripped, the enforcer is sent in to even things out. And some times the results go beyond sending a message to the opposing team.

    The NFL is addressing spearing. There is simply too much evidence of brain injury in the NFL. The NHL should do the same. The team owners bear the responsiblity. They hire these thugs and their coaches put them into the ring.

    Corky Boyd (d787be)

  20. IMHO once you enter the field of any professional sport you give up the traditional civilian protections of the law.

    ParatrooperJJ (8a6914)

  21. Anyone else remember back to 1977-78 when Kermit Washington of the Lakers decked Rudy Tomjonavich (sp?) on the basketball court?

    There’s a natural aggression in sports. But it sounds like what Macmillian did was way past the point of reason, and into the realm of criminal battery.

    Some chump (4c6c0c)

  22. Quasi

    Well, first, I am not saying fighting is part of the game. I mean, I honestly don’t watch enough to say. But I mean the public perception is that it is, so much so that I remember the classic video game “blades of steel” actually making a minigame out of the fight. That’s right, if you bumped into the same guy something like 3 times it would go to a special screen and you could choose to punch or block until someone won the fight. Which was both stupid AND awesome.

    On the other hand, I think that it is possible for officials to take it out of the game. They can, for instance, suspend anyone involved in a fight, without pay, for several weeks each time—enough to get it across to people that it is no longer tolerated.

    But the issue is this: consent. When you join the sport, what are you consenting to? I mean a boxer is consenting to be punched in the face, a lot. And you might say that a hockey player is consenting to a situation where fights might erupt. But you can also reasonably say he didn’t consent to what happened to this guy—even if he did consent to all that fighting.

    I am noncommittal mainly because I don’t watch the sport enough to commit.


    I would be curious to know where you would draw the line. I mean I assume that if, like in “The Last Boy Scout” the opposing player pulls out a gun and shoots the guy, that you would be opposed to it. But where do you draw the line between accidentally being hit with a hockety stick and being shot with a gun.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  23. All I’m gonna say is that Macmillian better watch out if they play the Jackalopes again.

    thomas (3e3fee)

  24. The only way this is not criminal is if the name of the game is “Sucker Punch.”

    kansas (7b4374)

  25. While wrong if walking down the street, and likely even against the rules in hockey, I do not see how this rises to the level of criminal conduct. If sucker punches or cheap hits rise to the level of criminal conduct, there will need to be a police officer and ADA assigned to every single football, hockey, and basketball game played anywhere in the US, at any level. I would add soccer, but the fake falls and injuries should be treated as criminal offenses before the actual physical interaction. The outcome should not determine the criminality.

    JD (1d20c1)

  26. Back in the mid-70s, Hennepin County Attorney Gary Flakne prosecuted Boston Bruins Dave Forbes for his on-ice assault against North Stars Henry Boucha. Boucha needed 25 stitches for a cut next his eye and surgery for a fractured eye socket. Forbes was indicted on charges of aggravated assault. But the jury could not reach a verdict and the case ended there.

    Wright (8a7bfe)

  27. It’s very easy — read: simplistic — to say ‘fighting is allowed in the game; therefore, there is no line between fighting and criminal behavior’. Bullshite! Assault is assault. The instances of out-and-out criminal assault are rare in this sport, but need to be differentiated from the fighting that IS a regular part of the sport itself.

    [Full disclosure: I live and work in Odessa, and am a fan of the Jackalopes. I attend games as often as I can get away from work to do so. In light of this, my opinion may not appear to be objective — but I’m still right. :) ]

    Icy Texan (d1fb99)

  28. They play the Jackalopes again, here in Odessa, on November 30th. I will be at the game and will report on all of the festivities.

    Icy Texan (d1fb99)

  29. In law school we read Hackbart v. Bengals, 601 F.2d 516 (6th Cir. 1979). That case held that, notwithstanding the violent nature of football games to which players consent in a gneral sense, if “Boobie” Clark had struck Plaintiff Hackworth “with reckless disregard” for plaintiff’s safety — Clark cheap-shotted Hackworth in 1973 — then YES, its a valid tort claim.

    Put differently: although players consent to violence in a general sense, they’re not consenting to cheap, dead-ball shots. It seems like your example here is a similar situation.

    Case is still good law on that point, I believe, although its been “receded from” (as Westlaw puts it) on an unrelated point.

    Mitch (890cbf)

  30. Comment by JD — 10/13/2010 @ 8:35 am

    Split lip/chipped tooth versus broken jaw. That’s where I come down on. Hit to sting not to damage.

    nk (db4a41)

  31. That will not serve you well playing hockey, or football. It will get you hurt, nk.

    JD (1d20c1)

  32. Wayne Maki should have done time, but his eventual fate was worse than any prison sentence.

    Dave (in MA) (fdc1e8)

  33. I’m shocked, shocked to find that there’s violence in hockey!

    Tanny O'Haley (12193c)

  34. “…B league players of marginal talent but with the size and mentality to right the wrongs officials miss…”

    George Parros, the enforcer for the Anaheim Ducks, is a Graduate of Princeton with a degree in Economics…

    AD-RtR/OS! (8b4d8f)

  35. #12 Ty, you are probably thinking of Marty McSorley’s attack on Donald Brashear. He was convicted of assault and sentenced to 18 months probation.

    Todd Bertuzzi’s sucker punch of Steve Moore is also infamous. He pleaded guilty to assault.

    So, the simple answer to the question in the post is “Yes, a hockey fight can cross into criminal behavior.” That’s not hypocritical, or unique to hockey. Boxing, for instance, is all about fighting but some misbehaviors in the ring are criminal, such as Luis Resto’s use of loaded gloves that resulted in his conviction for assault and other crimes.

    David Barnett (1cbde1)

  36. Ty, I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of Chris Simon hacking Ryan Hollweg, if you’re thinking of something really recent. Otherwise, it could be wehn McSorley tomahawked Brashear.

    Peter (e870d2)

  37. No blood, no foul; is the old mantra.

    If you break a guys nose and jaw, you done screwed up bad.

    luagha (5cbe06)

  38. “When you lace up the skates, you consent to assault and battery.” ~ Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams

    RickZ (882387)

  39. It all depends on whether the punch was provoked.

    If it was unprovoked, I believe the severity of the attack and the unaware status of the recipient of the punch is actionable.

    Answer to “Is it Criminal?”: Possibly. I’d have to watch the films.

    School Marm (a68c64)

  40. Hockey is better than watching those soccer pansies in the World Cup.

    Ain’t that ever the truth.

    Blacque Jacques Shellacque (609d83)

  41. That will not serve you well playing hockey, or football. It will get you hurt, nk.

    Comment by JD — 10/13/2010 @ 9:55 am

    I know that, in a way. It’s always been hard for me to hurt other people. Much harder than to take a hit.

    No lie. I’m teaching my daughter how to hurt by punching me in the stomach and stabbing me in the arm with a pencil. (She has a very good backpunch.)

    nk (db4a41)

  42. I’m guessing the Odessa team has an insurance company that wants some money back from that surgery.

    Speaking from the position of someone who has more brackets and screws in his face from soccer (I have 16 screws in 4 brackets in just my lower jaw… my upper jaw and cheekbone has more) than the hockey guy… well I both understand the pansy thing and resent it.
    I’ve been kicked in the mouth while on the ground, grabbed the guy by the nuts to help myself up and then spit my blood all over him. Then I drove myself to the hospital to get stitches for biting through my tongue

    Watch some clips of Mark Von Bommel working for Holland’s side

    SteveG (cc5dc9)

  43. As of Thursday, the league has fined the Colorado Eagles team, suspended three players, and fined the acting coach. In addition, local investigators presented the criminal case to the county prosecutors and they have requested more information.

    DRJ (d43dcd)

  44. Here is van Bommel defending Dutch teammate Nigel de jong

    “Dutch skipper Van Bommel refused to criticise De Jong although he hopes he learns from the experience.
    The Bayern Munich man told AD Sportwereld: ‘Nigel is and remains one of us. We find this all very frustrating. It’s very unfortunate that he has broken the leg of an opponent twice in six months.”

    Read more:

    SteveG (cc5dc9)

  45. Here’s a new development: The Odessa hockey team was apparently also fined for forfeiting the game, and now both teams have resolved their differences and will donate all fines to breast cancer research. (How PC is that?) What’s more, the Odessa team has withdrawn all criminal charges and both teams have apologized.

    DRJ (d43dcd)

  46. Sanity has returned to the ice.

    AD-RtR/OS! (1f1015)

  47. Was it sanity, or an exchange of cash behind closed doors?
    My guess is that the cost of the surgery to Odessa (the deductible) and the insurance companies behind closed doors demands on the Odessa team drove some of the outrage.

    Hockey evolved in an interesting way. It allows hits that really impact the skill players and instead of tightening up the rules on the hitting like the NFL has done with QB’s etc Hockey has the players handle it.
    It’d be like if Peyton Manning takes a hit; legal or otherwise by a DE or LB and the coach sends in an enforcer to whale on the guy… what a mess that would be.
    For every Wayne Gretzky, hockey has a couple of Marty McSorley’s to punch anyone who touches the skill guy.

    I think about 30 years ago the NHL should have had the refs act more in tune with soccer and send reckless players off quickly. The coaches and owners would have adjusted the type of player they drafted and put on the ice, and the game would have gone towards speed and finesse.
    Or not…

    What do people think of the sucker punch part of this… a possibly deadly one…. I think that has been missed here. Personally, I think the player should be banned from hockey for the year at zero pay.
    Let them enter a scrum to clear out a fight near their skill players to protect them… but do it from the shoulder down…

    SteveG (cc5dc9)

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