Maurice Richard Riot (March 17, 1955) Essay, Research Paper
On March 17, 1955, more than 10,000 crazed hockey fans from inside the Montreal Forum and from the streets outside gathered together to protest the suspension of Maurice “The Rocket” Richard. An outraged fan slapped and punched the president of the National Hockey League, Clarence Campbell who was quietly sitting among the spectators. This “seven-hour rampage of destruction and looting” was a result of this attack that occurred during the game that opposed the Montreal Canadians and the Detroit Red Wings (Zacharias, 2000). During this riot, there were many people who were injured and over 100 fans were arrest.
To understand this phenomenon we must go back to March 13, 1955. On this date, the Montreal Canadians were playing a game in Boston against the Bruins. One of the opposing players, Hal Laycoe, high-sticked Maurice Richard, injuring him to the point of requiring eight stitches on his scalp. Richard retaliated by smashing his own stick over Laycoe’s head and shoulders and slashed him with another player’s stick until it splintered. Becoming annoyed with the official’s interference in the fight, Richard then turned and punched him. Since hitting an official was the least honorable thing to do, Richard was expelled from the game (2000).
The next important date is March 16, the day before the riot. The National Hockey League president, Mr. Clarence Campbell held a three-hour hearing which resulted in the suspension of “The Rocket” for the remaining games of the regular season, including those during the playoffs. Montrealers were furious because Richard was a demi-god to them. They tried to intimidate Campbell with death threats, but he refused to withdraw the suspension (Coleman, 1976).
The next day, March 17, the Canadians were scheduled to play the Detroit Red Wings at the Forum in Montreal. The mood of the spectators was fowled even more by the fact that the Wings were a point behind Richard’s team in the standings. A crowd of nearly 800 protestors had already gathered around the Forum by game time. Due to these manifestations, extra police forces were called to the scene. Officials pleaded with Campbell, asking him not to appear at the game. He ignored them and quietly made his way to his seat. The fans noticed him and threw peanuts, eggs and programs at him. They calmed down during the first period, but at its end, with a score of 4-1 for Detroit, the crowd once again became wild. They began pelting Campbell with overshoes, bottles and tomatoes. The police tried to protect him, but one fan broke through the barrier and hit him. Another fan threw a smoke bomb near him, leading to panic and to the exit of the crowds into the streets. This started the riot that would become headline news and would result in the forfeiture of the game in favor of the Red Wings (1976).
This riot is a prime example of collective behavior as explained by Neil Smelser. Collective behavior is defined as a “relatively spontaneous, unorganized, and unpredictable social behavior” (Thio, p.536). This riot is a clumsy and primitive reaction to a matter that is seen as simple by the participants (1998). According to Smelser, combining six factors that must occur in a certain sequence generates collective behavior (1998). These factors are, in the order that must be followed, structural conduciveness, social strain, the growth and spread of a generalized belief, a precipitating factor, the mobilization of participants for action and inadequate social control.
The first factor, structural conduciveness, concerns the social organization that leads to a collective action or behavior. There must be some condition that exists in order for people to come together and communicate. This condition is essential because people must be assembled for this action to occur (Thio, 1998). In the case of the Maurice Richard Riot, the events that caused the collective behavior was the game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Forum in Montreal.
The second essential point in Smelser’s theory is social strain. This factor arises from “a conflict between different groups, from the failure of a government to meet citizens’ needs, or from the society’s inability to solve a social problem” (p. 537). In this case, the conflict was between the crowds who adored “The Rocket” and Campbell who disregarded this and suspended him.
The growth and spread of a generalized belief is the third factor. Collective behavior is the result of a commonly shared belief among the participants about the social strain (1998). The belief that the rioters at the Forum shared was the displeasure at Maurice Richard’s suspension because “he was a national hero and should be afforded some leeway” (Zacharias, 2000).
The fourth factor is a precipitating event that occurs. This “event brings the social strain to a high pitch and confirms the generalized belief about it” (Thio, p. 538). In this case, the incident that triggered the riot was the attack upon the NHL president Clarence Campbell by an enraged fan.
The mobilization of participants for action is the fifth point that leads to collective behavior. This factor concerns the leaders that encourage the crowds to participate in the riot. In order for there to be such an event, there must be persons who initiate the behavior (1998). In the 1955 riot, the person who encouraged participation was the fan who threw the smoke bomb that led the crowds to exit the Forum in a panic.
The sixth and last factor in the theory of collective behavior is inadequate social control. This point relates to the security agents that are present at the scene of the event. They may fail to respond to the problem or are slow in doing so (1998). There were police present during the riot at the Forum, but the agitators, thus slowing their reaction outnumbered them. The rioters were nearly 10,000 and the police only had 200 agents on the scene (Zacharias, 2000).
“The Richard Riot” was one of the biggest manifestations that Montreal had ever seen. The rioters destroyed many stores on St. Catherine Street, overturned cars and set numerous fires. Around 3 a.m. the police finally calmed the crowds, but the destruction was tremendous. This phenomenon is easily explained using Smelser’s theory of collective behavior in which six factors are combined to result in the final event, in this case the Maurice Richard riot of 1955.
Coleman, C. L. The Trail of the Stanley Cup. Vol.3. Sherbrooke: Progressive Publications. 1970: p. 252-254.
Patricia Zacharias, The Hockey Game That Broke out During a Riot. The Detroit News. [Online] http://www.detnews.com/history/montreal/montreal.htm
Thio, A. Sociology. Fifth Edition. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc. 1998: p. 536-538.