Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Castillo verdict: Don't press the panic button

There a couple ways to go with the story about "a major junior hockey player with an Ontario Hockey League team" (Toronto Star) being convicted of manslaughter in the death of 15-year-old Manny Castillo in a high school rugby game two years ago.

The first is to tell people not to panic about ramifications for collision sports. The fallout could be positive, if this leads to a more no-nonsense approach with regard to aggressive behaviour, without veering into nanny-state tactics or zero tolerance. Like Jason Whitlock says, "Social agenda does not trump truth." The second, since everyone has a little of the dirty gossip in her or him, is to wonder who is the hockey player; and wonder if hockey should get off scot-free in this since the killer presumably would have had to spend more time on the ice than on a rugby pitch to become a top-level player. (Wondering who it is not that important.)

Please keep in mind will have an impact in future cases, since Canadian jurisprudence is founded on the rule of precedent (which is why it's somewhat immaterial if the victim's parents did not wish to see the killer prosecuted; what if it happens again?). One practical application might be in terms of how much liability insurance cash-strapped schools have to carry in order to have a football, hockey or rugby team. As well, if this ruling had come 10 years ago, Todd Bertuzzi's fate could have been different:
" 'The force applied by the defendant was not within the rules of the game ...' the judge said. '... dangerous play inside or outside of the rules is not acceptable ... The defendant intentionally applied force that was outside the rules of the game or any standard by which the game is played. Manny did not explicitly consent to that force, and I am satisfied beyond any doubt that no such consent can be implied.' "
However, for our understanding here needs to be balance between realizing unchecked aggression which cost Castillo his life has no place in sports, but aggression will always have some place. Athletes need to go into a game realizing there are limits. It's not clear if Castillo's killer had listened to that lesson.

It is notable what the rugby coach at the victim's school, Lorne Park Secondary, said to The Star about how this should be handled:
"Coach Peter Mashinter said he could not support a review of contact sports in high school.

" 'It's all about preparation. You need the right people and experienced people,' he said. 'What happened (with Castillo) was an isolated incident. I don't think we need to drastically change things now.

" 'It's the coach's, players' and referee's responsibility to keep things in control. If you have a proper, disciplined team that plays the game the way it should be played, sure there will be injuries, but it will be played right.' "
That would be scoff-worthy if it was said by a hockey guy, complete with the usual word-vomit about "listen(ing) too much to outside influences when they don't know the spirit of the game, the culture of the game."

A honest, heartfelt belief is that people in football and rugby have been doing a good job with taking preventative measures. Football has cracked down on blows to the head, on dangerous tackling techniques that have caused paralysis or death (leading with the head).

As for rugby, Canada's men's national team coach, Kieran Crowley, was also quoted saying he couldn't recall an on-field fatality in his sport. It bears noting rugby, which sort of has that old-boys spirit about it yet has been much more welcoming to girls and women playing, is less imbued with the Domination Culture (hat tip: Chuck Klosterman) that imbues hockey and the Big 3 American team sports. There's more of an all-for-one spirit, a principle that you don't take advantage of a physically weaker or less experienced player. (One of the fascinating parts of rugby is that when the referee stops play, he or she will often explain to the players what they were doing incorrectly.)

The point is there will have to be some measures taken, but honestly, this was isolated. People are smart enough to realize Manny Castillo's death was somewhat isolated, and it's not cause for high schools to stop offering collision sports.

(As a sidebar, yes, one can wonder who is the player. The Globe & Mail story notes, "He has short blond hair." He is 18 years old, from Mississauga and would have started playing in the OHL after the assault occurred in 2007, since major junior teams typically bar players from taking part in other sports where they could incur an injury. That's as far as I'm willing to narrow it down.)

Teen guilty in rugby death (Bob Mitchell, Toronto Star)
Teen rugby player guilty in game death; Judge rules ‘playing field is not a criminal law-free zone' (Globe & Mail)

1 comment:

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