Safety & Security

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Former Hockey Player Introduces Bill to Ban Fighting in Youth Sports

5 Dec, 2020

By: Michael Popke

Enrico Ciccone, a former National Hockey League player who racked up 1,469 penalty minutes over 10 years for his role in fights like this one, is on mission to end brawling in youth sports in the province of Quebec.

As a member of the National Assembly of Quebec for Marquette in the Montreal region, the 50-year-old recently introduced a bill that aims to clean up all non-combat sports played by athletes under age 18. The most obvious target, observers say, is the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) — which already has decreased its tolerance for fighting this season, according to the Montreal Gazette. (Fighting is already banned in most other Quebec hockey leagues.)

“Of course, some people will say ‘Look at this guy, he’s a hypocrite. He made a bunch of money and now he wants to change things.’ Of course, I do,” Ciccone, who played for seven teams during his NHL career, told the newspaper. “And I’m probably the best guy to do it.”

“As you know, things have changed through the years and society has changed, and we have numbers, we have scientific reports also that [show] us the damage [fighting] can do on your brain,” he added in an interview with CBC/Radio-Canada, during which he said he suffered “around six or seven concussions” during his playing career. “We just want to try to work ahead to make sure that these kids don’t go through what I went through, what a lot of my teammates went through.”

Ciccone acknowledged that some teammates who experienced concussions on the ice eventually battled memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and even killed themselves.

Stephane Julien, head coach of the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix, supports Ciccone’s effort — which was unanimously received by all 121 Members of the National Assembly — and said coaches don’t encourage players to fight anymore. (Maybe not in Quebec, but young players were being trained to do battle on the ice at a suburban Chicago rink this summer.)

“I’ve never been a coach to do that, I’ve never seen that in junior [hockey] the last 10, 15 years. So that part is gone,” Julien, who played against Ciccone on the junior circuit, told The Record of Sherbrooke. “But if it’s allowed, guys will still fight.”

Julien added that today’s young hockey players sustain concussions during the course of a game (and not fighting), and said that shutting down fighting demands a culture change.

Whether that change will come awaits to be seen, as Ciccone’s bill will now be considered by Isabelle Charest, Quebec junior education minister responsible for sports.

While Ciccone’s bill would impact youth sports in Quebec, similar measures might help calm things down in the United States, where several incidents involving players, coaches and parents made for ugly headlines during a pandemic-plagued summer and fall.

The coaches of two girls’ basketball teams were taken to the hospital in July after a fight at Germantown (Wis.) High School involving 10 people. According to WTMJ, Milwaukee’s NBC-TV affiliate, “the Wisconsin Playground Elite, a Milwaukee-based team, was taking on the Appleton-based Wisconsin Blizzard when the fight occurred. Witnesses say family members of a player on the Playground Elite were kicked out because they were arguing with referees. While on their way out of the gym, words were exchanged with the coaches from the Blizzard [b]ench. That’s when the family members approached the bench and a fight broke out.”

Another local media outlet reported that that “the two Blizzard coaches were taken to the hospital; one [with] a broken nose and the other had to get stitches on his face.” Police were called, and the tournament was canceled after the incident.

In Cape Coral, Fla., police broke up a brawl at a Pop Warner football game at the Storm Football Complex in October. One coach chipped a tooth and suffered other injuries after he tried to break up the fight. Police told WBBH, the Fort Myers NBC-TV affiliate that “the fight involved an unknown player of the opposing team, as well as a big group of parents and coaches.”

A few weeks later, in Denver, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was investigating a fight between parents at a football game between 8-year-old players. “One team was from southwest Denver and involved minorities. The other team was from the suburbs and predominately white,” according to CBS Denver. “One Black player was injured. Witnesses said racial slurs were yelled to get him off the field. … A fight then broke out between parents of players on the two teams, with well over a dozen involved in the brawl. One video shows one person swinging a fist at another. Other clips show people trying to push people apart.”

Some footage of these incidents might wind up posted on Offside, a satirical Facebook  page started in 2016 by motivational speaker and soccer referee Brian Barlow that is nevertheless  “dedicated to giving the game back to the kids [and] ridding youth sports of the negative energy and hateful antics caused by children posing as adults.”

“I do it to hold people accountable — to identify and call out the small percentage of parents who nonetheless create a toxic environment at youth sports,” Barlow told The New York Timesin 2018. “It’s a very visual deterrent, and not just to the person caught on video but to others who ask themselves: Do I look like that jerk?”

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