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For Love or Money Illustration by Rick Lake.

For Love or Money

Stephen Harper’s A Great Game chronicled the birth of professional hockey with fanboy enthusiasm. But a closer look reveals a between-the-lines defence of the PM’s policies.

THE BIRTH OF A SPORT is the birth of a style of violence. In basketball, we have the hack and the charge. American football has given us verbs like “face- mask” and “horse-collar,” while in soccer, the slide tackle sends athletes soaring through the air. A hockey fight, perhaps the most brutal and certainly the most tolerated violence in sport, turns players into centaurs: it’s straightforward fisticuffs balanced on elegant blades.

Critics of violence in athletics cannot admit what fans intuit each game: there is something sublime in consensual violence. To condemn bloodshed in general is no protection against the intensity of a contest which lacks the mannered restraint of everyday life. We are drawn to sport for its wildness, and it is utopian to think the wild can be cleansed of brutality.

But defenders of violence in athletics, who often invoke its grand tradition, are also in ...

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