I am taking the train when I over hear a conversation about the Vancouver Canucks. A guy is trying to justify his dislike of the team to a friend. It is well known that the Vancouver Canucks are disliked and instead of saying it is because of a particular style of play or the Alex Burrows biting incident he goes to the ultimate sports insult: they are a bunch of floppers. Or in other words pansies and cheaters. But are the Vancouver Canucks really worse than any other team in the NHL or is it just that they play a particular skill based type of game that can be either beautiful or is not rough and tough enough?
The idea of diving, faking or flopping is present in sports other than hockey, the most notable sport is probably soccer/football. In my experience the word flopper means different things. On the one hand it refers to a player that falls down to easily or exaggerates a hit, or injury to get a call from a ref. However, it can also be a convenient put down against a team one dislikes. Many national soccer/football teams are accused of being floppers, and always by people who are not their supporters.
I am watching the final of the U20 FIFA soccer world championships between Argentina and the Czech Republic. The Czech team were the tallest in the tournament and played a tough style of game. This is not tough in the hockey fight, enforcer sense of the word. They battled, worked hard, and most importantly after being fouled kept playing instead of madly waving their arms begging the ref for a call. The Argentinians were the exact opposite. They fell down easily and twitched waiting for a call before getting up. Often times they fell down when simply near a Czech player or stayed down when a Czech played got up. The problem is that far more fowls were called for the Argentinian squad than the Czechs, a contributing factor in the outcome of the game.
I resent the Argentinian team who win the game and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Worse in one of the most important games of their young careers elite players (many will go on to play professionally) are being taught that diving works and playing fair does not. The Czechs pay for their honesty and work ethic — returning to the play instead of yelling at the ref or trying to draw a call. The Argentinians fall too easily and too often, and walk off the pitch having learned that it pays to dive.
If we teach young athletes the wrong lessons it will carry onto the rest of their careers.
A friend finds out that I am an Italy fan. They ask me how I can support a bunch of dirty floppers and spout rumours of players being photographed practicing diving properly. I spout the same accusations towards the Brazilian and Argentinian teams. This brings me back to the question of where do we draw the line between diving as a penalty in a game and flopping as a convenient insult. They can’t all be diving all the time and it can’t just be the teams we dislike that are diving.
While the diving call may be underutilized in the NHL it is difficult to come up with another objective measure of diving in hockey. The Canucks were tenth in the NHL in overall diving penalties during the 2010–2011 season with 170. The Calgary Flames, a team that I have never once heard accused of being a bunch of dirty floppers came in first in diving penalties with 192 (1). None of the other eight teams above the Canucks are repeatedly accused of being floppers but then again the Vancouver Canucks are one of the most widely disliked teams in the NHL — enough so to merit a tweet by the Kings to that effect. It seems as though there is a big difference between teams that are called for diving and the team(s) that are accused of diving.
It is possible to do without diving for example a study done by Wake Forrest University found that womens soccer players dive considerably less than men and that it really isn’t a part of their game (2). This goes to show that diving does not have to be a part of sports. Integrity and respect can be guiding principles. This does not mean that in contact sports players will not go down and that bumps won’t happen. It just means that referees should decide what contact is legal and what isn’t separate from whether a player is lying on the ground or seems injured. Players that take it too far should be penalized instead of rewarded. Perhaps then we will be able to move past accusations of floppers and minimize diving in sports, unless they are of course sports that involve diving into water.
1. “Dirty Cheaters? Sorting Through NHL Penalties A Team-By-Team.” SBNation.com. 23 Mar. 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <http://www.sbnation.com/nhl/2011/3/23/2065528/nhl-penalties-2010-2011>.
2. Longman, Jere. “Routine Ruse in Men’s Soccer Tumbles Into Women’s World Cup.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/sports/soccer/at-the-womens-world-cup-drama-without-all-the-dramatics.html?pagewanted=all. 11 July 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2012.