We've been told throughout the aftermath of the Vancouver Game 7 riots that those who burned and looted the city "should not be mistaken for hockey fans." This has been reinforced by police, who blamed the worst of the riots on a small group of people who were prepared to ignite (literally) chaos after the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks finished their game, win or lose.
But the evidence is battling perception, and perception is a bitch to overcome.
If you want to know how low hockey's reputation sunk in the eyes of many after the riots, look no further than … Mixed Martial Arts?
Yep. Jesse Holland of MMA Mania used the riots to pump the tires (hey, Roberto) of the UFC, which held UFC 131 at Rogers Arena on the Saturday before the mayhem:
That's not to suggest that MMA caters to a higher class of sports fan, or that the average fight fan isn't capable of bad behavior, but it does suggest that MMA is a completely different type of sport and one that doesn't promote violence, despite what takes place inside the Octagon.
What Jesse and any more MMA loyalist peddling the same nonsense — talk to us when 100,000 people cram the streets in Vancouver to watch a UFC event without incident — don't realize is that we're still all in the same pigpen as ultra-violent sports, in the eyes of the moralists.
In fact, Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus blames hockey and the UFC for inciting young fans to be a part of the riots.
"We have a justice system that acknowledges that minors don't have the full brain development even to be fully responsible for their actions. The fact that we didn't see 50-year-old women rioting tells me there's something physiological and biological going on that makes these young men and teenage boys particularly vulnerable to a situation of mob hysteria."
Bacchus said a teen's impulse control isn't fully developed and that, and other factors, should be explored in the wake of the riot. She added the hype was cranked up in the days before the final with sentiments such as "We're all Canucks."
"The painted faces and hockey itself—it's aggressive, they celebrate the brawling on ice, it's winning, it's dominance. If kids are all watching a UFC game and cheering someone for bloodying up someone else's face, how big a leap is that from cheering on someone smashing a window? It's very mixed messages we're sending to young people who are still in a stage of developing their impulse control and moral development."
Once more, with feeling:
"If kids are all watching a UFC game and cheering someone for bloodying up someone else's face, how big a leap is that from cheering on someone smashing a window?"
(Let's ignore the fact that calling it a UFC "game" pretty much eliminates any shred of credibility among sports fans.)
That statement assumes that a sport in which combatants operate under a strict set of rules, and there are consequences for breaking those rules, would inspire a young fan to appreciate lawlessness. It's plausible, perhaps, though it would fly in the face of what participatory youth sports have allegedly been teaching our children for decades.
But more to the point: Being a hockey or UFC fan has little to do with being a spectator during a riot. When there's a fight in a school yard, do children crowd around because it's like watching Tito Ortiz or Milan Lucic(notes)? Of course not: They crowd around because it's something uncommon and they want to witness it. If they egg on the combatants, it's because they want to witness it for a longer duration or to witness something more intense.
The same principle holds for the riots: How many camera phones did we see in those riot images and videos?
How many Facebook messages from "OMG I WAS IN THE RIOT" people?
The violence in hockey had nothing to do with cheering on a violent act in the riot; they were like directors coaxing something more emotionally raw from an actor, so they can say they saw it happen and capture it.
Bacchus makes some very salient points about juvenile justice in her comments about the riots. But going after hockey or MMA as having played any kind of role in what occurred really obscures those points — and continues to skew the perception of the riots themselves.