Profiting from Goonery

In the 1977 cult movie Slap Shot, Paul Newman plays Reggie Dunlop, a hockey player-coach who revamps his losing team, the Charlestown Chiefs, as a goon squad. The team begins winning and the fans start watching.

Anita McCambridge, the owner of the Chiefs, is unimpressed. She tells Dunlop, “I have to confess that I’ve never let the children watch a hockey game. I have a theory that children imitate what they see on a TV screen. They see violence, they’ll become violent.”

Hockey is the only major sport I know of that has players referred to as goons; they are not skill players but serve a gladiatorial function. The National Hockey League (NHL) is clearly appealing to violence-loving fans, a strategy that has made it a butt of jokes. ((Comedian Rodney Dangerfield had a famous line: “I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out.”)) Of the hockey pugilists, an announcer stated during the 9 January 2010 game between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames: “They know what their roles are.”

The Vancouver-Calgary match would decide first place at the end of the night. Twice two players squared off during the game to engage in fisticuffs. The linesmen stood back to allow the “spectacle” to proceed. The announcers were clearly excited. ((See Round 1 and Round 2. ))

During a NHL game on 8 March 2004, Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks, in a premeditated attack, suckerpunched Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche and fell on top of him, fracturing three neck vertebrae and ending Moore’s career. ((For some background, see a brief video clip.))

Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the 2003-2004 season and the following 2004-2005 season (which was canceled because of a player-owner dispute).

Moore has a lawsuit pending decision against Bertuzzi, the Vancouver Canucks, and the team’s ownership at the time, Orca Bay.

Bertuzzi filed a third-party claim against his then coach Marc Crawford for allegedly exhorting his players to make Moore “pay the price” for his legal hit against a star player on the Canucks.

At the end of Slap Shot, coach Dunlop reveals the motivation behind his goon hockey strategy: “I could make a goddamn fortune.”

In the 2008-2009 season, NHL aggregate revenue rose to $2.82 billion. ((Kurt Badenhausen, Michael K. Ozanian and Christina Settimi, “The Business Of Hockey,”, 11 November 2009.)) Meanwhile children are watching NHL hockey games.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. observing said on January 11th, 2010 at 10:25am #

    There’s a fast and easy fix for goonery in all sports. The player that caused the injury does not return to play until the injured player does.

    There are already rules prohibiting and penalizing players that interrupt play by “taking a dive”.

  2. bozh said on January 11th, 2010 at 10:42am #

    I hadn’t watched hockey for at least ten yrs. Now i do not watch any profesional sport. Making profits from sport, singing, entertainment, arts, etc., appears a s a wrong.
    Yes, expenses have to be covered by public. I am a song writer. To CD my songs, it costs me money; that’s all i’d like to get back. Our genetic pool enabled me to write songs; i thank trns of people who made that possible!
    Here i am thinking beyond of parameters of thinking set by our priests/pols, media people. tnx

  3. kalidas said on January 11th, 2010 at 1:21pm #

    The little tykes shouldn’t be allowed to watch any violent actions by their adult overseers.
    And I know just the cure for their inquisitiveness.
    Take them to the slaughterhouse to see how and where their breakfast, lunch and dinner comes from.

  4. onecansay said on January 11th, 2010 at 7:16pm #

    All for one and one for all. There is no I in team. Have no indication of the posts authors here BUT should you think for one moment that being on a “team” does not help your “cause”, then dream on. Ice hockey may well be the most violent spectacle on the outside BUT polo may well be the same on the inside. Check yourselves for relevance.

  5. observing said on January 12th, 2010 at 9:53am #

    I have watched hockey since childhood, never played as I’m simply not an aggressive person. I seldom care which team wins, for me the enjoyment in in the pace and strategy exhibited. If played properly it is not nearly so violent as cast here. Yes, there is and always will be body contact, but hopefully the days of open crosschecking, high sticking, slashing, idiotically brutal body checks and no-holds-barred brawls are gone. Watching two mature and skilled teams play is closer to high speed ice ballet than WWF thuggery (even if it is an act).

    All that remains is for the courts and the sport’s governing bodies to make the stakes sufficiently high that no professional player will endanger their own career by ending another player’s, intentionally or inadvertently.

    Certainly there will be circumstances when the injury was absolutely unintentional and truly unforeseeable, but that would be so rare as to be easily handled on a case-by-case basis.

    Professional sport spectacles have been around since civilization as we know it began, so it is doubtful it will disappear anytime soon.

  6. dyfynnog said on January 13th, 2010 at 8:06am #

    I am an avid chess player, and I have a freind/opponent who names his pieces in an attempt to “humanize” them (and perhaps himself as well). His point is that, as a “commander”, he is using the lives of fathers, brothers, husbands and sons to achieve his goals.

    My point is that violence is inherent in the nature of competition. Chess is more abstract than hockey, which is more abstract than warfare, but it all comes from the same chest-thumping, territorial pissing contest in our souls.

    Profiting from goonery is no different than profiting from love, fear, or any other fundamental instinct.