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Ontario teen to be charged in minor hockey attack; the fact-based case for changing attitudes toward courts policing the game

On the same day that some troubling statistics on teens and traumatic brain injuries hit the media, it appears there will be criminal charges stemming from a minor hockey altercation in January that went on to draw nationwide media attention.

Woodstock, Ont., hockey parents Julie and Wes Major took up the cause of seeking redress after their 16-year-old son, Nick Major, sustained a broken noise and a brain injury after he was punched several times during a melee that began after he supposedly sprayed ice chips at the opposing team's goalie. The media attention obviously put this in the spotlight, but surely there is no need for a Naheed Nenshi-esque explanation that police lay charges when they believe there is enough evidence to present to Crown prosecutors and not because it made national news. But I digress.

From Greg Colgan:

Wes Major said that Woodstock police left a message with Julie Monday afternoon and he talked with police Tuesday morning, where he was asked if they still wanted to press charges.

“I don’t want to see anyone get in trouble, but I think a message has to be sent that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable in society whether it’s hockey, on the street or in a bar,” Wes Major said. “To me it wasn’t a fight, it was an attack. Whether it’s a hockey rink or not, it’s an attack.” (Woodstock Sentinel-Review)

The player who punched Nick Major, who cannot be identified under Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act, is innocent until proven guilty and is entitled to due process. That young man, whom one can only imagine is pretty scared about having to go to court, is also entitled to some compassion. The emotions of the game had apparently got out of control, which is entirely on the adult coaches and officials. As the president of the Brantford Minor Hockey Association put it, "viewers cannot appreciate the full nature of a particular game, and such incidents do not typically occur in isolation of other events." That alone, of course, is not an airtight alibi.

It's worth noting that even after what happened to his son, Wes Major seems to have some misgivings about using the courts as a remedy. (Of course, it might never have come to this if minor hockey administrators had handed out sanctions to the player, coach and team that actually had some teeth.)

Whatever comes of this in the legal system, it's worth wondering if the historical reluctance to have the courts police the country's hockey rinks is ebbing. And if so, why? On Wednesday, the Journal of the American Medical Assocation published a study by Toronto-based researchers claiming that 20 per cent of Ontario adolescents have suffered a traumatic brain injury and that "(s)ports such as ice hockey and soccer accounted for more than half the injuries." When one considers the potential long-term public cost of a single brain injury, it's not hard to see why there might be a push to reduce the chance of that happening. If a teenager sustains an injury that, for instance, leads to her/him missing school and having to repeat classes, we all have to pay for it. And so on down the line.

The reason it’s so important to take a stand against this cultural blind spot is the potential for life-changing damage to an assault victim’s brain. In the case at hand, the 16-year-old, Nick Major, suffered a concussion and broken nose. It could have been much worse. And why did the other player take it on himself to assault him? Because Nick sprayed the goalie with ice. Yes, pummelling the brain is sometimes deemed a just punishment for sprayed ice, in the code of supposed hockey honour. And this was in single A hockey, a low level played for fun, and which does not lead to the professional ranks. Does this culture make sense? (The Globe & Mail, June 19)

Brain injuries are never going to be completely eliminated as long as there are fast-paced collision and contact sports, but discouraging unchecked aggression is a good starting point. It's a control that's not that hard to put in, if people in minor hockey are willing to take hard line. In this case, they didn't, so now someone is doing it for them.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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