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Game-Day Gangsters: Crime and Deviance in Canadian Football

By Curtis Fogel
Edmonton, Alberta: Athabasca University. 2013.

Game-Day Gangsters is an interesting and extremely readable book with the aim of exploring how participants in Canadian football perceive consent by focusing on three relevant and distinct areas: violence, hazing, and use of performance-enhancing drugs. To examine this, as Fogel notes, “the book delves into the complicated relationship athletes have with their sport and the law. It explores how players perceive and understand consent in stadiums filled with fans yelling ‘rip their heads off’, in locker rooms when veteran players demand rookies undress and receive anal prodding from ‘Mr. Broomstick’, and on team buses where performance enhancing drugs are passed around like ‘penny candy’. Most importantly, it explores how acts that are considered criminal outside of the context of sports are tolerated and in many ways promoted in Canadian football” (p.2).

The book is structured upon seven chapters, which are written with a great sense of economy, including the introduction (chapter 1), where the author offers a discussion of the issues faced by lawyers and judges attempting to determine what constitutes consent (and how to prove it has been given) in Canadian sports, in general. In chapter two, Fogel describes the experiences and perspectives of Canadian football players and those he calls ‘administrators’ (coaches, referees, player agents etc.) in relation to violence in their sport; violence is categorized as routine violence, immoderate violence which is unauthorized in sports (e.g. a very violent tackle from behind intended to cause injury), and ultra-violence causing severe and sometimes permanent injury. Chapters three and four focus on the experiences and perspectives of Fogel’s participants with regard to hazing and the use of performance-enhancing drugs, respectively. In chapter five, the author uses the concept of ‘tolerable deviance’ to expand the discussion of on-field crime and deviance in Canadian football and offers a perspective on the process through which certain acts are tolerated; whereas in chapter six, the concept of ‘constraint’, a term “to denote less enjoyable aspects of an activity or the restrictions placed on one’s involvement” (p.122), is used to determine the extent to which individuals choose to engage on criminal acts on the sports field. Finally, in chapter seven, the author discusses the implications of his research and possible alternative models for dealing with legal issues in sports.

The biggest asset of the book becomes apparent to the reader as early as the first three lines of the Acknowledgements page. The work is based on interviews with as many as 81 Canadian football players from professional, university and junior leagues, and other relevant actors. In most of the works on sports, fraud and corruption, the major participants in sport events, players and athletes, are not often taken into to consideration with some notable exceptions.[1] This book is filled with these characters, especially chapters three, four and five, and the author provides chunky excerpts from his interviews which make the text alive and interesting.

Secondly, as mentioned earlier, the author focuses not only on professional leagues but also junior and university leagues (which perhaps act as precursors to the professional ones), and offers an indirect account of their similarities and differences. Overall, through this contrasting of the three ‘levels’ in Canadian football, as well as through highlighting the blatant disjuncture between how the legal system defines consent and how the players actually define consent in their own (sporting) lives, the author very efficiently highlights that sports is yet another industry that the law cannot regulate effectively.

On the other hand there are a few issues that the author could have attended to. For example, a methodological section or chapter (in addition to the list of interviews offered in an appendix) would have significantly benefited the book, as well as the readers, who consider engaging in some research with sportsmen. The methodological approach followed by Fogel (or at least the sample interviewed) is novel and a wonderful opportunity is missed for the author to do justice to his work.

In addition, although one cannot expect a book to cover everything, another opportunity was missed by not exploring how participants in Canadian football perceive consent in match-fixing. Finally, although I completely agree with Fogel that criminal acts in football “are tolerated by individuals in positions of power because they serve the interests of capital accumulation and create precarious labour position for football players” (pp.139-140), in my opinion, this part of his theorizing leaves the reader craving for more.

Despite the caveats raised, in my opinion, Game-Day Gangsters is a page turner, an interesting piece of work and a rather worrying account about Canadian football and sports in general that is most certainly worth reading.

Teesside University, UK

[1] See, for example, Yar, M. (2014) Crime, Deviance and Doping. Basingstoke: Palgrave; Hill, D. (forthcoming, 2015) ‘Jumping into Fixing’, Trends in Organized Crime

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