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Sports Law

Criminal Liability For On-the-field Conduct

On rare occasions, some athletes have been subjected to criminal actions against them for their conduct during an athletic contest. Regarding hockey, many teams of which are located in Canada, a few players have been convicted of such crimes as assault in Canadian tribunals. Such was the case with Martin James McSorley, commonly known as Marty, who was convicted of assault with a weapon by a Provincial Court in British Columbia, Canada, in 2000. McSorley, a member of the Boston Bruins, engaged in a series of altercations on the ice with Donald Brashear, a member of the Vancouver Canucks. In the waning seconds of the game, McSorley swung his stick at Brashear, hitting him on the right temple. When Brasher fell, he hit his head on the ice and began having a seizure. Brasher missed more than a month of the season. McSorley, who was eventually suspended for one year by the National Hockey League, received an 18-month conditional discharge by the Canadian court in lieu of a prison sentence. However, he was ordered not to play in any game in which Brashear was also a participant.

McSorley's case is a rather rare example of an athlete being convicted of a crime for on-the-field activities. Even some of the more infamous instances of violence during sporting events—such as one involving heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson who bit the ear of opponent Evander Holyfield in 1997—have resulted in fines and suspensions by the sport's governing bodies, rather than criminal actions.

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