May 29, 2021 Editor

Opinion: It’s ‘The Code’ of the NHL, and it has no cure for stupid

Opinion by Ken Dryden

May 27, 2021

photo above: Toronto center John Tavares is taken from the ice on a stretcher on May 20 after being injured during Game 1 of the Maple Leafs’ first-round playoff series against Montreal. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) 

Ken Dryden, a former goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, was a member of Canada’s Parliament from 2004 to 2011. His books include “Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey.”

WN: This of course is the story of humanity. We endlessly imitate the violence of the opponent, escalating it into something often far more monstrous, brutal, deadly . . .

Ken Dryden–a former superb goal tender, gentlemanly player, NHL Hall of Famer, trained lawyer, Member of Parliament, author, motivational speaker–is dead-on in his analysis that boils down to: It’s ‘The Code’ With No Cure for Stupid!

The outstanding anthropological work on this was by French literary scholar and philosopher, René Girard. It is impossible to comment on Girard adequately and briefly at the same time. The following though is a teaser.

Girard understands the birth of all cultures, including Christendom and Christian culture, to arise from the unanimity achieved by scapegoating a victim or victims. Ritual, prohibition, and myth dominant in all cultures religious and secular arise in the repeated exercise of a sacrificial mechanism designed to re-establish the peace. Cultic rites the world over in archaic religions and scapegoating interpretations of Christianity demonstrate the phenomenon; the Criminal Justice System (CJS) in a secular society serves a similar “scapegoating mechanism” function.

A classic treatment of the CJS in this respect is by Canadian Girardian scholar, and friend, Vern Redekop: Scapegoats, the Bible, and Criminal Justice: Interacting with René Girard.

So Mr. Dryden is right–indeed more right than he knows. But when in the article he states,

And mostly it works. But when it doesn’t, cops and judges intervene.–

he, a lawyer, doesn’t get it. For, just as in William Golding’s classic 1973 novel Lord of the Flies, what comes to the rescue of school boys during World War II stranded on a spectacular coral island after a plane crash–when some of the boys descend into unmitigated scapegoating savagery–is a British naval gunboat–that is representation of an epitome of savagery   . . . We read:

He saw white drill, epaulettes, a revolver, a row of gilt buttons down the front of a uniform. A naval officer stood on the sand, looking down at Ralph in wary astonishment. On the beach behind him was a cutter, her bows hauled up and held by two ratings. In the stern-sheets another rating held a sub-machine gun. The ululation faltered and died away. The officer looked at Ralph doubtfully for a moment, then took his hand away from the butt of the revolver. (pp. 181-182)

The surreal irony of the rescue of the remaining terrorized school children is caught here:

The officer grinned cheerfully at Ralph. ‘We saw your smoke. What have you been doing? Having a war or something?’ (p. 182)

The schooboys indeed are rescued from the otherwise murderous savagery of the other boys. (You must read the novel to understand.) Or are they really rescued after all? Is it not rather “Out of the frying pan into the fire?”

For their saving comes from a naval officer of the British Empire, who in that Empire’s centuries long “Empire-on-which-the-sun-never-set” reign (the United States taking up in similar barbarity the Empire torch post World War II), represented unmitigated mass savagery (“the savage wars of peace,” so dubbed by Rudyard Kipling–see: Kipling, the ‘White Man’s Burden,’ and U.S. Imperialism) towards black and brown bodies the world over.

A naval officer, part of the War effort occasioning massive civilian casualties (at least 600,000) in Germany under the relentless carpet bombing of innocent civilians–men, women and children–by England’s Central Bomber Command, deliberately to cause mass wounding and death of noncombatants–comes to the rescue.

And its American ally and Empire successor did even more devastatingly over the skies of Japan, topping off its unprecedented “inhuman barbarism” with two atomic bombs dropped on civilian populations. One was released over Hiroshima just as school boys and girls were going to their classes. The ultimate mass savagery committed against school children like those in Golding’s novel, on a gargantuan scale redefined such evil stratospherically of President Roosevelt’s “inhuman barbarism!,” as seen below.

The schoolboys are rescued from one form of barbarism only to be returned home “safe” to another form of worldwide barbarism by all sides that was World War II.

On September 1, 1939, on the eve of World War II, after Germany had bombed targets eventuating in its Blitzkrieg, President Roosevelt sent this appeal to Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Poland:

“THE ruthless bombing from the air of civilians in unfortified centres of population during the course of the hostilities which have raged in various quarters of the earth in the past few years, which have resulted in the maiming and death of thousands of defenseless women and children, has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.

“If resort is had to this sort of inhuman barbarism during the period of tragic conflagration with which the world is now confronted, hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings, who have no responsibility for, and who are not even remotely participating in, the hostilities which have broken out, now will lose their lives.

“I am therefore addressing this urgent appeal to every Government, which may be engaged in hostilities, publicly to affirm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event and under no circumstances undertake bombardment from the air of civilian populations or unfortified cities, upon the understanding that the same rules of warfare will be scrupulously observed by all their opponents.

“I request an immediate reply.” (emphasis added; see also here.)

Please see as well the enormous irony in a long reflection on the inhuman barbarisms (what this looked like on the ground and in the air) authorized by Presidents Roosevelt and Truman by War’s end: Why Canada’s special forces ‘shadow army’ is still fighting ISIS.

If God did not exist, I would make One up to hold all accountable for all such inhuman barbarisms down through the ages. Then Pogo’s wisdom kicks in (in a different but related context): We have met the enemy, and he is us.

We read of a protagonist at the end of Golding’s novel:

Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart . . . (p. 183)

So yes, Mr. Dryden, It’s The Code, Stupid! It’s the Stupid Code! But its application goes far beyond the reciprocal scapegoating violence of stupid professional hockey players who constantly bow to that deeply entrenched Cultural Code on Ice. Far beyond.

For we have seen the enemy, and he is us.

But one may discover that there is a way out that does not repeat endless cycles of scapegoating violence: the sheer enormity of this realization perhaps has best been articulated in René Girard’s work. He explains in an interview:

The third great moment of discovery for me was when I began to see the uniqueness of the Bible, especially the Christian text, from the standpoint of the scapegoat theory.  The mimetic representation of scapegoating in the Passion was the solution to the relationship of the Gospels and archaic cultures.  In the Gospels we have the revelation of the mechanism that dominates culture unconsciously (James G. Williams, (1996).  The Girard Reader, New York: Crossroad Herder, p. 263).

Girard suggests that this order of discovery should in fact be reversed, that Christians should work from the Bible to myth and culture. Walter Wink in his trilogy on the Powers, in particular Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (in which he incidentally devotes a whole chapter to Girard) is an illustration of this.  Wink begins his study:

Violence is the ethos of our times.  It is the spirituality of the modern world….  Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not seem to be mythic in the least.  Violence simply appears to be the nature of things.  It is what works (1992, p. 13).

His entire life’s work, and this book the final of a trilogy on biblical “powers,” was a challenge to what Wink calls “the myth of redemptive violence” which dominates the world–and The Lord of the Flies, and professional hockey!– like no other.

The biblical text, in a travail of discovery and rejection of the scapegoating mechanism in the Hebrew Bible, climaxed in the story of Jesus who eschewed all violence and all “domination systems,” to use Wink’s term.

This is the way out; the ultimate rescue; Kingdom Come . . . So we pray: Thy Kingdom Come.


It was an awful sight. The play during a first-round game of the Stanley Cup playoffs last week seemed routine — Toronto Maple Leafs center and captain John Tavares was checked by Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot. But as Tavares fell, Montreal’s Corey Perry, speeding toward the play, jumped to avoid Tavares but instead struck him hard with a knee to the head.

Everyone instantly knew it was bad. Every player, every coach, everyone watching at home. The Toronto arena, empty of fans, somehow got even quieter. No one could do anything but wait, in fear and hope, as medical personnel attended to Tavares.

The players’ somber reaction to the injury seemed so respectful, so right. How would these teams — historic rivals facing each other in the playoffs for the first time in 42 years — now get back to playing? Then came the answer. The Leafs’ Nick Foligno, by word or gesture, said to Perry, the player who had accidentally injured his teammate: Let’s go. They dropped their gloves and the fight began.

The Code.

There has always been a basic understanding in hockey: You do wrong to me, and I do wrong to you. You “take the number” of the other guy, and eventually get him back. Like the Golden Rule, except instead of a virtuous cycle, a vicious one.

The Code has no cure for stupid. An eye for an eye easily escalates to two eyes for an eye. It pushes players to do what the Code expects, whether that’s good for the players, their opponents, or the game itself. In our own lives, we have cops and judges, but in almost everything we do, we police our own behavior because there can’t be cops and judges everywhere. And mostly it works. But when it doesn’t, cops and judges intervene. Where is the league? Where is the Players’ Association?

Please click on: It’s ‘The Code’ With No Cure for Stupid!

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.