You’ve probably seen it – the video of Boston’s Gina O’Toole, an irate hockey mom, scrambling across the ice at her son’s game to help break up a fight among a bunch of players. If not, here it is, along with the basics of the story. In the past week the video has gone viral, drawing nearly 300,000 views.
As a result of all the attention, O’Toole has drawn quite a bit of criticism – not to mention derisive laughter – for her actions, which quickly were characterized as yet another example of a crazy sports parent who doesn’t know when to sit down and shut up. Here’s an op-ed from the El Paso Times making that case, lumping O’Toole, with violent parents who do all the brawling themselves.
When I first heard about the video I assumed the same thing – a nutty sports parent losing control. But when I watched the video I reached a different conclusion. This wasn’t just a little spat between her son and some other kid that lasted a few seconds. This was a full-on donnybrook involving multiple players and lasting at least a few minutes. And as it continues, one ref slouches nearby, watching the kids hammer away on each other, and there is no sign of any coaches stepping in to control the situation.
From various reports, the game was rough almost from the start, gradually building to the melee. The refs and the coaches clearly had lost control. When punches started flying, they remained passive, which seems more bizarre than a mom walking onto the ice.
Since the video went viral, O’Toole has appeared on at least one national news show to tell her side of things. Her son has refused to take part, embarrassed that his mom made such a public display and refusing to be part of the joke. She says that she waited for the refs and coaches to break up the battle, and when they made no attempt to do their jobs she took action.
Should she have done it? Hard to say. Parents attending their kids’ games should be spectators, nothing more. It doesn’t matter if they think a coach is making stupid decisions or that their kid is victimized by a bad call from a ref or ump. They have no right to any kind of outburst.
But a full-scale brawl on ice – in which kids could get seriously injured – is completely different. From the video it’s hard to know exactly how long the fight lasted, but it was not just a matter of a few seconds. And it went way beyond some pushing and shoving. Meanwhile, the people who should be taking control – the refs and the coaches – don’t step up and take control. One ref makes a half-hearted effort while the other seems to be thinking about where he’s going to eat after the game.
O’Toole told the media that she was worried about head injuries, which, given all the recent media attention surrounding concussions in sports, is not much of a reach. Most parents, I think, would be concerned. And if the people supposedly in charge are doing nothing to protect the kids (admittedly from each other) then many parents would have done something.
Would they have slid their way onto the ice and started yelling at the refs? Well, probably not. But her actions, at least to me, are far more understandable and, frankly, forgivable, than those of the coaches and refs.
So lay off hockey mom. Her son will get over his embarrassment soon enough. The effects of a concussion would have lasted a whole lot longer.