In defence of Jim Boni

In defence of Jim Boni

Extract from a Sports Illustrated article about ice hockey player Jim Boni, who was accused of manslaught on the rink and the subsequent support actions by other players in face of his suspension.

The case, it's believed, is without precedent. It was the first instance anywhere in the world of a hockey player being charged with manslaughter in connection with a fatal injury that occurred during a game. The incident, captured on videotape by Italian television, was relatively innocent-looking as hockey violence goes. Were it not for its tragic consequences, it would hardly have drawn a second glance.

Schrott, a strapping 19-year-old defenseman who grew up in Gardena, was covering Boni as the Courmayeur captain broke in from the point. As they jostled for position in front of Gardena's goal, Boni put his arm around Schrott's head. Schrott, who wore a cage on his helmet, punched Boni in the head with his right glove in response. Schrott then raised his left arm to straighten his helmet, and Boni, without looking, slashed him in the chest with the heel of his stick. Spontaneous payback. It wasn't a spear. And Boni's hands were not together on the stick, baseball-style, when he swung. It was a quick, angry whack, a warning for Schrott to keep his punches to himself. Then Boni wheeled to the blue line. Schrott crumpled.

Following the death, the federation initially suspended Boni for the duration of the '91-92 season. It seemed like an appropriate response to the tragedy, and Boni, who'd never had any previous disciplinary problems, was reinstated the following year. Literally an hour before the first game of '92-93, Zumofen received a fax saying that the federation had suspended Boni again, indefinitely, having heard that Gardena fans were preparing to bus to Cortina to protest Boni's return.

Catenacci, who played last season for a team in Fiemme, then organized a player slowdown in support of Boni. Whether they were Italian or Canadian, the hockey players in Italy knew how easily what had happened to Miran Schrott and Jim Boni might, but for the grace of God, have happened to them.

"I feel sorry for Miran and sorry for Jimmy," says Markus Brunner, an Italian player who'd been a teammate of Schrott's on the junior national team. "I saw the incident on TV, and it could happen to anybody. These slashes happen 20 times a game. If Miran were still alive today, he'd say the same thing."

Every team cooperated in the slowdown except Gardena. In games throughout both divisions, the teams waited for 10 minutes in their dressing rooms, delaying the opening face-off. Announcements were made to the fans explaining the reason for the late start. "We got a fax from the federation saying if we did it again, we'd be fined $10,000," Catenacci recalls. "We did it anyway. The fans were supportive. They clapped when we came back on the ice. And if the federation hadn't reinstated Jimmy, we were going to go on strike and not play the games."

The hockey federation relented and once again gave Boni permission to play.