One of the most famous experiments in psychology is the Milgram Experiment; you’ve probably heard of it without knowing its name. The Yale study from the early 1960s involved unwitting subjects who were instructed to administer growing levels of electric shocks to their “subjects” when they would get a question wrong. The shocks were fake and the “subjects” actors, but nearly everybody in the study, once convinced that they would not face any repercussions for their actions, administered what they perceived to be excruciatingly painful shocks to the “subjects,” even as they pled for mercy. The message was clear: when culpability disappears, so does morality.
Keep that lesson in mind when you witness this video from Saturday’s hockey game between Michigan and Michigan State. Near the end of the 5-3 victory, Michigan State’s Andrew Conboy and Corey Tropp react to a clean hit by Michigan’s Steve Kampfer (if that name sounds familiar, it is; read on for more) by blindsiding Kampfer, knocking him out, and continuing to assault him as he lay face-down on the ice, hospitalizing the defenseman. Video from FOX SPORTS DETROIT’s airing of the game is after the break.
In nearly any other context, what Conboy and Tropp did would be considered a criminal act. On the ice, it’s a double minor for roughing for Conboy and a two-game suspension for Tropp. Meanwhile, there’s no telling how long Kampfer will be out, since we’re talking about head/neck issues and Kampfer was the same hockey player who was assaulted by a Michigan football player, suffering fractures in his head and neck. Kampfer had barely recovered from those injuries when the MSU players took him out yesterday.
But this sort of thing is all too normal for the most thuggish, lawless sport in the civilized world. If hockey players behaved the exact same way but had the racial makeup of, say, the NBA, then most sports fans would use seriously ugly language to decry their bloodlust and propensity for fighting. Soon, even latent racism will get pushed aside for the reality of the situation. Hockey has a serious problem with gratuitous violence, and until it seriously cleans up its image–and penalizes fights and injury-causing illegal hits with more than just token gestures–there’s only going to be more injuries, more fights, and more deaths.
The shame is that hockey, in its purest form, is a joy to watch. Just look at the popularity of the NHL skills competition going on right now. Removed from brutish behavior, hockey players are poetic in their graceful movement. But all that goes by the wayside when hockey devolves into the loutish domain of “enforcers,” “goons” and the rest of the skaters who’ve been taught from the first day they set foot on the ice that there’s nothing really wrong with beating the hell out of your opponent. It’s time for someone to take the first step toward cleaning the sport up, and suspending Tropp for the rest of the season is a good start.