Have your say: How do we teach sportsmanship in a sport with designated fighters?

Special to The Globe and Mail

Despite the national hockey euphoria over the return of the NHL playoffs, we can’t help but ask: Do we want our kids to watch? (Jupiterimages/Getty Images)

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

This week, millions of Canadians are rejoicing in the return of the National Hockey League playoffs. Some, like us die-hard Leafs fans, hum the Hockey Night in Canada theme song aloud all day until the puck drops on TV.

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But despite the national hockey euphoria, we can’t help but ask: Do we want our kids to watch?

In this year’s shortened hockey season we’ve seen a severed Achilles tendon, allegations of biting and multiple suspensions for elbows to the head and hitting from behind. Last year’s playoffs saw noticeably more violent hits and fights than usual.

Two-thirds of Canadians think fighting should be banned at the professional level, and three-quarters want to see it banned at the junior level, according to a recent poll. But like any business, professional hockey tailors its product to its target market – in this case, men aged 30 to 49, according to the Environics Institute.

Given that the sport is watched by much younger, more impressionable fans, do professional hockey leagues carry a larger responsibility for stewardship? This winter, an illegal check during a Toronto minor hockey game broke the neck of 16-year-old Justin Mendes.

Or, given how loudly the crowd cheered during a post-game brawl that saw 12 players suspended from the Quebec junior playoffs last week, do we all need to take responsibility for our national game?

This week’s question: How do we teach sportsmanship to our kids when violence in professional sports often rules the day, and is sanctioned by the sporting culture?

The experts:

Charles Tator, director of the Sports Concussion Project at Toronto Western Hospital

“Hockey is a great game for teaching young people sportsmanship. We must get the pro leagues and players to participate in building strong, skilled and respectful adults, rather than brawlers, punchers and head hitters. The first step would be strict anti-brain-hit rules and enforcement, including increasing suspensions for the player and coach for each infraction, up to lifetime bans for a third brain hit.”

Todd Jackson, senior manager of insurance and membership services for Hockey Canada

“Minor hockey administrators, coaches, parents and volunteers have control over the minor hockey environment and how it is delivered. Through rule enforcement and the setting and emphasizing of positive expectations, we can create the safe, respectful environment we all want regardless as to what outer influences exist.”

Kevin Murphy, child psychologist and former minor hockey coach

“People who watch hockey fights may not become fighters themselves, but they can become more accepting of violent ‘solutions’ to various problems. To counter this effect, parents can encourage their children to regularly brainstorm other, more creative solutions to the challenges that they and the larger world face, including those ‘problems’ that hockey fights are supposedly designed to address.”

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