Martine St-Victor: The Oscars might as well have been a hockey game

We all bear collective responsibility for complacency in response to violence.

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When did we become such brutes? That includes you and me. There are responsibilities we must take on collectively. Even if you didn’t watch the Oscars, you know and surely have seen the video clip or the photo of actor Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock, on the stage of the Academy Awards show, after Smith found that a joke about his wife was too much to bear.

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Is it our fault that Smith couldn’t handle his anger differently? Of course not. But the crowd’s reaction when Smith picked up a statuette for best actor, less than an hour after the attack, also reflected something much more pervasive.

There they were, Hollywood’s glitterati, decked out in borrowed jewelry, clapping and giving a standing ovation to a man who had just committed an assault. Like the evening’s bold and beautiful, we’ve too often stood idle when confronted with violence.

Flying back to Montreal over the weekend, I asked one of the flight attendants whether business was back to pre-pandemic levels. She confirmed that it mostly was, but lamented how passengers had changed. Many of them had become impatient and rude. Others had become violent. “Air rage is an issue,” she concluded.

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It’s a sentiment echoed in the hospitality industry. Restaurant owners and waiters have shared how the dynamics in dining rooms and at takeout counters had changed, courtesy of many patrons who had become, well, discourteous.

The anxiety of a pandemic, the isolation of confinement, prolonged social distancing have changed many of us, whether we’re standing 30,000 feet up in the air or standing on solid ground here in Canada, the world’s nicest country.

That’s our brand, isn’t it? Nice, polite and the complete opposite of our national sport: hockey. In 2020, Liberal MNA Enrico Ciccone introduced Bill 692. The private member’s bill is titled “an Act to amend the Act respecting safety in sports to prohibit fighting in sports activities in which persons under 18 years of age participate.” The former athlete played in both the National Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), one of Canada’s three major-junior leagues. It’s where Ciccone wanted to see change. While penalties for fighting have been made stiffer, fights – bare knuckles at that – still happen. And how could they not? We still see it in the NHL, the Eldorado for most players in junior leagues. We sit in the arenas, complacently witnessing – sometimes even cheering on – the violence, as if we were at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.

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Where does the cycle of violence in hockey start? When do we introduce our children to hockey with NHL games on television? Violence is part of hockey culture, and that’s what has to change. In all fairness, data shows that fighting in the NHL has gone down. In the 2000-2001 season, there was at least one fight in 37.3 percent of games. Last year, it was 18.2 percent of games. Still, that’s too many. Would we tolerate such recurrent violence in the NBA (National Basketball Association)? Or on the field at Saputo Stadium?

The elimination of violence in hockey and the change of culture I wish to see in the sport is also one I hope will happen in our society more broadly. In 2015, we saw a complete shift in decorum in US politics that still lingers. It seems foolish to think it hasn’t trickled down here. The various kerfuffles seen at campaign stops during last September’s federal election and the discourse at the recent truckers’ protests prove it has.

Various metrics can explain the polarization in politics, they can explain the violence in sports and why many have become rude, but they shouldn’t excuse the misbehavior. And certainly, they shouldn’t make our complacency acceptable. We can’t clap as if all this is normal. It isn’t.

Martine St-Victor is general manager of Edelman Montreal and a media commentator. Instagram and Twitter: martinemontreal

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