“Before you read this next story,” begins Chapter 6 of Jeremy Allingham’s Major Misconduct: The Human Cost of Fighting in Hockey, “I need you to do something first. Grab your phone or computer, search ‘Stephen Peat vs. P.J. Stock’ on your browser, then settle into your seat and brace yourself.” The fight, which took place in a game between Peat’s Washington Capitals and Stock’s Boston Bruins on January 5, 2002, is just one brutal example of the fighting that the author wants to help eradicate from the sport of hockey.
In the book, Allingham delves into the stories of former hockey fighters Peat, James McEwan, and Dale Purinton, all of whom have suffered from common symptoms of CTE since retiring from the sport they love. Drinking, drugs, estrangement from their families, and jail time are common themes indicative of the consequences that all three men attribute to careers spent fighting, or as Allingham puts it, accurately, numerous times throughout the work, “bare knuckle boxing.”
While the three men all have uniquely fascinating stories (McEwan, for example, has turned his life around through spiritual meditation, yoga, and a hallucinogenic drink administered by Amazonian shamans called ayahuasca), they all seem to stem from childhood memories of players fighting on television, and the glorification of the act by the announcers, and in two of the three cases, the boisterous Hockey Night In Canada co-host Don Cherry’s highlight packages of great hockey fights. None of these men, of course, strapped on skates with the intention of becoming known for their fighting prowess, but instead adopted that element into their games in an effort to push to the next level of their professional careers.
Lest you think that Allingham is limiting himself to one side of the story to paint the picture he wants you to see, that is certainly not the case. Allingham speaks with boxing coaches who have trained hockey players, as well as players who have taken boxing classes, all of whom indicate that it’s not about going out on the ice and looking for a fight. Rather, it’s about knowing what to do to protect themselves should they end up in that situation. The author even goes as far as to talk to Georges Laraque, a prolific NHL enforcer who fought over 140 times in the league during stints with the Oilers, Canadiens, Penguins, and Coyotes. Laraque doesn’t share the outlook that fighting is a direct cause of CTE, though he does feel fighting should be eliminated at the junior level.
When I first got the press release from the books publicist, I wrote back that it sounded like a fantastic book. I got the book in the mail either Monday or Tuesday of this week, and I had a hard time putting it down. While I don’t know that Allingham succeeded in his goal of making me want fighting out of the game entirely (I did once watch an entire two-hour VHS tape my then-roommate bought of every single Rob Ray fight), it definitely has me thinking about the consequences these men suffer as a result of repeated blows to the head. It’s also done something I once thought impossible – it’s made me dislike Gary Bettman even more than I did before reading it. This book is definitely worth the read, and absolutely lived up to my expectations.