Opinion

Throwing animals on the ice makes all sports fans look like boors

We aren't barbarians. But throwing animals on the ice — including catfish during Predators games — makes all sports fans, even those of us who oppose the practice, look dumb.

There are good and bad traditions in sports. Throwing animals on the ice a bad one

The long-standing and otherwise positive hockey tradition of lobbing things onto the ice is being tainted by this cruel and pointless practice. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

In April 1952, the first dead octopus was thrown onto the ice at the Detroit Olympia arena.

The animal's eight tentacles were said to represent the eight wins needed by the Detroit Red Wings hockey team to secure that year's Stanley Cup. The Wings went on to sweep both the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs that season, thus forever entrenching the tradition of octopus-throwing into hockey culture.

The tradition then evolved over time, incorporating other (hopefully) deceased animals thrown by fans of other NHL teams: a shark with an octopus in its mouth in San Jose during a 2010 Sharks vs Redwings game, a duck in San Jose during a 2011 game against the Mighty Ducks, a salmon in Vancouver in 2012, and catfish, year after year in Nashville. 

Thursday night, during Game 7 between the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets, yet more catfish were thrown on the ice.  

It's just a silly sports tradition, one that has gone on seemingly innocently for decades (aside from repeated public requests from PETA to end the practice). That is, until this year's Jets vs. Predators playoff series, when one Winnipeg girl, just nine years old, observed the fish throwing with fresh eyes and said: wait a minute… this is wrong.

She is right.

Harriet Belanger wrote a handwritten letter addressed to "Nashville Predators Management," saying that she did not agree with fish being thrown onto the ice. "It had a life [too] you know," she wrote. Belanger also requested management "please start to tell people NOT to even bring a catfish to the game." She later told CBC that she thinks the act is gross, cruel and unnecessary. "It made me feel bad," she said. 

CBC's Ismaila Alfa, left, with 9-year-old Harriet Belanger who's taking action to stop catfish-throwing. (Aviva Jacob/CBC)

She's not alone. Many top responses to the story on social media were in agreement, with commenters sharing their own discomfort with the tradition. Some deemed it an unethical waste of food. Others called it barbaric, shameful and inhumane.

That's because, in an age when animal rights and welfare issues are becoming increasingly top-of-mind, such a blatant display of exploitation just doesn't sit right anymore. (One recent study found animal welfare to be the top cause among Americans in 2018.)

Whether dead or alive, treating the bodies of animals as objects — mere disposable tokens of luck and entertainment — no longer holds moral justification, and certainly offers a confusing lesson to children. Catfish shouldn't be caught, suffocated, flung about and exploited simply for sport.

Making a change

Of course, loyalty to sports traditions and superstitions — however odd and sometimes senseless — is fierce, and typically tough to break. It's an undeniable part of the spirit of the game, for both players and fans. But sports can and have evolved to fit the culture of the time. And part of that evolution, which, in the past, has included altering game rules to add more excitement and increasing safety standards for both players and fans, is recognizing when it's time to make a change.

The long-standing and otherwise positive hockey tradition of lobbing things onto the ice — from throwing hats for hat-tricks, to tossing teddy bears for charity — is only being tainted by the cruel and pointless practice of throwing live or once-live animals. It just makes hockey (and hockey fans) look bad.

We aren't barbarians or gladiators. Sports are no longer played to the death, humans don't fight against wild tigers and bears and we should no longer continue this absurd and barbarous tradition of throwing animals onto the ice.

The risk in continuing on with the ritual will be a loss of future fans. As nine-year-old Harriet said, "I don't want to see that again."

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Jessica Scott-Reid

Jessica Scott-Reid is a freelance writer and animal advocate.

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