The NHL may differ significantly from other leagues by changing the way it officiates in the playoffs, however, when it comes to rioting, the major professional sporting leagues in North America share that in common.
Basketball fans rioted in Los Angeles after the Lakers won the 2010 NBA Championship.
Football fans rioted in Pittsburgh twice in 2006 and 2009 after the Steelers won the Super Bowl.
Baseball fans rioted in Washington in 1971, in 1974 in Cleveland, and Chicago in 1979, bringing to an end cheap beer nights at ballparks.
My point here is that it is worth looking at the fact that fans of many sports have done this in many places - 'celebration', as often as frustration, would sometimes seem to be at the heart of matters, as oddly enough, some cities have rioted after victories. And this doesn't just happen in North America - we have all witnessed the fact that it is commonplace in European soccer. Vancouver is certainly not the only NHL city to have seen this take place on their streets.
Before we get too carried away with ideological explanations, perhaps we could look at what is most common, aside from all the hype involved in the sports and all the emotional identity felt and invested on all sides. Don't get me wrong - I love a good sports event and have no problem with people celebrating - but is there a bigger drunkfest in our culture than these events? Those two things alone, when combined - major sporting events with thousands of people drunk in public - have been enough to result in some mass regretable behaviour on many occasions.
There was a comment made by a restaurant owner in Los Angeles after the Lakers riot that I think is a very appropriate response in circumstances like this and which does not over-state things - "I think it's pretty sad, especially when customers turn on you so quickly," manager Christian La Bella said. "They lost respect for themselves, they lost respect for the Lakers, and they lost respect for the restaurant. It's a shame for LA."
Many people are questioning the way the VPD handled the events of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals this year. I am not going to question that. Controlling thousands of drunk people is apparently more difficult than herding cats, and is obviously not only a lot more dangerous, but can also conflate the problem as masses of people get additionally agitated and angry with police officers. The comments that "criminals, anarchists and thugs" were responsible would seem to be oversimplifying things. This is not an apology for people who were willing to risk the safety of thousands of people - but the problem, however, would seem to be a lot larger and more mundane than that. The comment suggests that the solution would be to round up the "criminals, anarchists, and thugs", and the problem would not recur. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated occurance, and there were hundreds of people responsible and thousands involved, and the vast majority of them are probably 'everyday' people. Perhaps there were people who had the intent to riot, but the event for the most part looked like thousands of drunk people blowing off steam in destructive ways that were sub-political - a sight that has become too common in championship sports event reality. If there were those planning to riot, there were far too many people willing to oblige them - without them, police would not have been so hard pressed to stop small groups of people. It looked for the most part like a whole lot of spontaneous and random bad judgement - something that is intangible enough that police can't be expected to anticipate it - and even if that were possible, it is still not a simple task to control. If people are concerned that police were not forceful enough, perhaps they may consider that police on the streets probably had a fairly good idea of who and what they were dealing with, and made a sensible evaluation that vehicles and windows were not as important as the safety of the public and the police involved. There is also the relationship between the police and the general public to consider. What can truly be done to prevent these kind of occurances? When there are tens of thousands of people at these events, and there is a great deal of alcohol consumed as part and parcel of the culture of sports and celebration - the question becomes an exceptionally difficult one. Politicking or blaming the police approach just do not seem to be appropriate ways of responding. There are different ways of looking at things - in hindsight, that it shouldn't have happened at all seems to be a near concensus as does the fact that few want to see this recur. On the other hand, it is possible that it could have been a lot worse, and that the police managed to contain and minimize what did occur.
In the end, as they like to say in sports... "it is what it is."
And what is that? Is it simply in our nature and our identity, or is there something in our culture, in our disposition towards sports, the hype, and loss of perspective that is escalating the problem? Could we retain our passion for these games while doing more to stress that there is nothing life and death about sports victories, nor should there be - and they are not an excuse to lose respect and act upon it. We are not likely to give up or fundamentally change these types of sporting events in the future, but what about the way we invest ourselves in their outcomes - and how much public intoxication is too much?
Perhaps the perspective of that restaurant owner in Los Angeles is very important here - there was no name calling, there was no ideology, there was no politicking - the comments were simple and not over-simplified.
In these highly contested contexts, how do we collectively manage to retain respect for ourselves and others?
After the fact, who could envy those whose job it is to sort it all out?