“I went to a fight once; and a hockey game broke out.” – Comedian Rodney Dangerfield
Fighting in the NHL has long been debated and with the recent anniversary marking the passing of former NHL tough guy, Wade Belak, I figured now is as good a time as any to discuss one of the most highly debated topics in the NHL.
With many teams using a valuable spot on their roster that could go to a goal scorer or rookie on an “enforcer” or “goon”, it makes the topic of fighting rather important. These guys are the true fighters of the NHL who basically just collect a pay check to go out there and bleed for their team. They fight when told to fight or when they feel the time is right. Hired muscle doing the dirty work so the goal scorers and playmakers can be free and have the time and space to do what they do best; put up points and win hockey games.
Hockey purists say fighting belongs in the game because it has always been allowed and it’s a way for the players to police themselves. Folks on the other side of the fence say the toll fighting takes on players and their brains, not to mention the fact they feel it is unnecessary violence, is enough to have fighting taken out of hockey.
First let’s take a look at the reasons why some people feel fighting should always have a place in hockey. One of the biggest defenses people often use is, “It’s always been allowed”. Sure fighting has always been allowed, but that doesn’t mean it should be. In the 1960′s lobotomies were common practice in the psychology field and they were even allowed to be issued against a person’s will. Think we should still be poking peoples brains and turning them into mindless zombies against their will? Well maybe some people, cough cough Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr cough cough. That’s a joke and I know the example of lobotomies is an extreme jump to make, but I exaggerate to get the point across that just because something has always been a common practice, it doesn’t necessarily mean it should be allowed.
Another defense for allowing fighting in hockey is the argument that it allows the players to police themselves. While I agree with this argument the fact that dirty plays still occur with fighting being allowed could potentially squash any weight this defense was carrying. On the flip-side however, even with penalties and suspensions in place dirty plays still happen. So it’s my opinion, as someone who has played and watched hockey most of his life, that the threat of immediate retaliation is a heck of a lot more intimidating than a potential fine or suspension.
With concussions also becoming a popular topic of discussion in the NHL and other sports, fighting in hockey has definitely been pulled into the spotlight. Just last year 3 NHL enforcers passed away, Derek Boogaard, the aforementioned Wade Belak and Rick Rypien, and their deaths have since been linked to brain trauma most likely suffered while playing hockey. Hockey, like all contact sports has its risks and injuries, but when fighting is involved it becomes a whole other monster.
Head trauma can lead to many health problems down the road, depression and dementia being the biggest culprits. We take for granted the ability to locate our keys everyday, or go to the store and grab milk or even just have the ability to get out of bed everyday. But repeated head trauma can lead to depression and dementia which can make simple everyday tasks seem impossible. In some cases, like those of Boogaard, Belak and Rypien, it can eventually lead to suicide or death. Thats a heavy price to pay just for being allowed to fight in the NHL and you can see why some people would like to see fighting out of hockey for good.
Could hockey still be one of the most entertaining sports to watch without fighting? Absolutely. The arguments that more people go to games to watch the fights than the actual game is often used, as well as the fact that fighting turns away more fans than it draws and I can’t agree with either of those statements. Sure, lots of people go wanting to see big hits and fights but those same people cheer just as loudly when their team scores or a great save is made. Sure, some people don’t let their kids play or watch hockey because of the violence. I’m not naive however, I understand people enjoy “violence” in sports. The NFL is one of the most popular sports leagues in the world and it happens to be one of the most violent. Players suffer concussions almost every week in football and fighting is not even allowed. Like the NFL, the NHL is a business, its a business that has violent aspects and until revenue or TV deals are lost because of fighting in hockey or a player dies on the ice during a fight, its my opinion that fighting will always be allowed.
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