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“It's Only Sport”—The Symbolic Neutralization of “Violence”


Symbolic Interaction

Published online on


Within the commodified world of professional ice hockey, athletes sell their bodily performances in return for a salary. A central feature of this transaction is the very real risk of physical injury—a risk inherent within most contact sports, but particularly so within those that feature seemingly “violent” confrontations between competitors, as ice hockey is widely reputed to do. Yet, within the spectacle of sport, where physicality can be constructed as playful and unserious, it is possible for the consequences of such action to be concealed behind a symbolic, ludic veneer. Within this article, we explore this process with a particular focus on ice hockey spectators, for whom notions of sport violence as in some important way “mimetic” of the “real” enabled their propensity to both enjoy, and find moral validation through, potentially deleterious behaviors among athletes.