A Monday night hockey game in Dallas between the Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets was just like any other game until Rich Peverly, a Dallas Stars player, collapsed on the bench. This was due to complications with his irregular heartbeat. Emergency personnel quickly pulled him into a hallway and used a defibrillator along with other treatments; they very likely saved his life.
It is a disturbing story in itself. However, what Peverly said when he regained consciousness got a lot more attention. He reportedly asked if he could go back into the game. Among hockey fans, this was viewed as admirable bravery, proof that hockey players are tough, especially tougher than those wimps who play basketball. A photo meme was shared around the internet comparing Peverly asking to play after almost dying to the NBA’s best, LeBron James, getting carried off the court due to a leg cramp.
This was just another example of many where hockey fans look for any example to prove just how tough their sport is and because it is tougher, it is consequentially obviously superior, too – so goes the reasoning.
What if these two incidents say nothing about which sport’s athletes are tougher?
Peverly almost died. Yeah, I can see how Peverly wanting to continue playing that night was admirable. He loves the game. However, asking to go back into the game says less about bravery and more about the aggressiveness of professional athletes.
Athletes are a special brand of people. To make it that far in their sport, they have to have the desire to play and train when others would have long given up. That’s why they are so good at what they do.
Despite the sentiment of hockey fans, it isn’t just hockey players either.
Hank Gathers was a college basketball player who died on the court in the middle of a game. He was playing through heart complications similar to Peverly’s. Gathers was diagnosed with the heart complications and given medication that made him drowsy. In an effort to play basketball at a high level again, he convinced doctors to give him a lesser dosage on game days. Before games, Gathers would do wind sprints to sweat the medication out – whether that worked or not, he tried. As you may already know or can guess, he died. Gathers died of a heart attack in the middle of the game. Was his effort to remain an elite basketball player tough? Maybe a little, but it was a main entrée of over-aggression with a side dish of tough.
I believe the desire of fans to separate and differentiate their sport as better than others is so they can explain why they love the sport that they do. However, this intra-sport competition between fans is essentially unnecessary. The aggression present in a sport has nothing to do with how “good” the game is.
As far as I can tell, my favourite sports are my favourites not because of what the games say about me, but for the way that they connect me to the people around me. I love hockey because it is something that I got to watch with my dad and brother. I love baseball because that’s what my friends and I played in the summer. I’m not worried about what my love for those sports says about me as a person.
The culture of hockey seems to be tightly tied with the need to prove its toughness over other sports, and as a lover of hockey, I find this quite embarrassing. Not only is it nonsensical, this culture of masculinity that tells young boys time and time again to “be a man” does damage. By telling them to “suck it up” and denouncing crying, we keep creating men who have forgotten emotion and reason; all they know is toughness, aggression, and competition. As much as we don’t want to admit it, leg cramps hurt. LeBron James isn’t a wimp, but, rather, an amazing athlete.
It’s time we traded in the old mantra of “be a man” in favour of a newer, more inclusive one: “Be a reasonable person.”