Ontario Court Justice Diane Lahaie convicted sport when she recently found Gordon MacIsaac guilty of assault for an on-ice hit.
Without even debating whether the hit that left Drew Casterton unconscious in a men’s recreational non-hitting hockey league in Ottawa in 2012 was deliberate or malicious, I say it still doesn’t warrant a criminal record.
Should MacIsaac have faced a suspension or ban from his league? Definitely. An athlete who is no longer able to play the game they love is consequence enough for going outside the rules of the game. A court of law has its place in society, but not necessarily within sport.
Let me explain.
With the exception of the most deliberate intent to injure, especially if it involves a bat or stick that is used as a weapon, there is plenty of actions that any organized league has to be its own court of law. If this hit even was deliberate, was it a direct attempt to harm the person? That is a whole other argument.
I have played basketball against opponents who have deliberately tried to hurt me. Step up and knock down the free throws and go back at it was the best defence. In a game I was playing particularly well, I had my feet taken out from me on a drive to the basket. With both wrists sprained, I was not only sidelined for that game, but a couple of weeks. I have played fast-pitch softball when pitchers have intentionally hit me with a pitch. I have been left with large bruises and lingering pain.
I have exchanged words in those cases. I have retaliated in those circumstances. A hard foul back or my pitcher hitting one of their players was commonplace. However, not once did going to the police cross my mind. Am I just old-school in my mentality?
I played basketball, and learned the game from guys, during a time when a player who was tough to stop had to be put on his keister. If a person came into the paint, they should be deterred from coming back. I never had a coach tell us to hurt a player — to take them out of the game — but definitely to put the thought in their head. I played softball against pitchers who, if you were hitting them well, they would hit you back.
It’s a risky way to play the game, but it is a risk we all should assume when we play sports. I am not saying I agree whole-heartedly with that approach, but I am saying it doesn’t warrant criminal charges.
Times have changed. The Detroit Pistons known as the Bad Boys — yes, my favourite team growing up — would not have been able to play the style of basketball in today’s game.
Similarly the fouls that were a part of the game when I played would get people kicked out of a game today. I don’t have a problem with cleaning up the game, but I think it has gone too far in some cases.
With this conviction, the entire sport community should be put on notice.
Everybody who hurts another player with an action not intended to be part of the game, can find themselves in court. If the circumstances warrant it, maybe if that person has a previous criminal record of some sort, they could land themselves in jail.
That is a hard way to play sports. Ahem, sorry, a “soft” way to play. Seems to be fitting of the way the game is played today, whichever that game may be.
Cory Hurley is a reporter/photographer with The Western Star. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.