Question #169: Should fighting be banned in hockey?
During the recent NHL general managers’ meetings, there was a discussion and modification to some of the NHL’s rules on fighting. The executives did not markedly change the basic concept of hockey fighting, but instituted some minor changes intended to penalize “staged” fights, like those that start immediately after a faceoff. Frankly, I’m not sure what the difference is – now guys that want to go will just wait one lap around the rink before dropping the gloves instead of right when the puck drops. Big deal.
The larger question is more interesting and is one that’s been forever bandied about in hockey circles: Should fighting be outlawed altogether?
Let’s hear your take and I’ll be back later with mine.
A very high level NHL referee said to me, many years ago, “If they take fighting out completely, and then they find out that they need it, how do they put it back in?”
There are so many questions about what hockey will become if fighting is ever completely eliminated. How dirty it will get. How many cheap shots will result. How suddenly-brave players will carry their sticks higher.
Oh, and the underlying fear: Will the fans they still have then go away?
I am totally torn on this topic because I played hockey and I covered hockey for many years, and I appreciate that fights happen, and that sometimes you feel a need to stand up for a teammate (or for a teammate to stand up for you), and after watching the Big Bad Bruins and the Broad Street Bully Flyers all those years I understand that teams now regularly employ “heavyweights” for protection. Sort of anti-ballistic missiles, if you will.
I think therein lies the problem. Every team has a thug, and every thug feels it’s necessary to fight the other team’s thug, whether there is rhyme or reason. Those are often the staged fights that parts of the NHL want eliminated, where two guys drop the gloves right off a faceoff. Or where one team trails late in a game and feels the need to “send a message” by starting a fight or a series of fights. That’s where hockey gets its ugly rep.
But I don’t have a problem with an actual spontaneous fight. In fact I rather like seeing players who play with passion—a Jarome Iginla, a Joe Thornton—guys with ability or even superstar ability, take care of business when it’s warranted. There are penalties for such actions, and if one is a clear instigator, then he should be punished more severely. Hockey has eliminated most of the brawling (there are far more bench-clearers in baseball or before college football games).
I just have a tough time with total elimination of fighting. And if anybody’s going to decide this one way or the other, I think it ought to be the players and their union.
2:34 p.m., Sam says:
I love hockey. Always have, always will. I played it, watched it and covered it and consider the Rangers one of the few teams that I’m actually a fan of. That’s my hockey background.
Given that, I understand how you, Carp, feel, as well as a few of the commenters who wrote some variation on the “it’s a man’s game and men fight” line. I can certainly see that argument. I still don’t think it would be a bad idea to ban fighting.
Truthfully, it’s not even because I think it’s “killing the game” or “too violent.” I just think it’s wrong. Fighting isn’t a positive thing in any walk of life (other than a sport like boxing or wrestling, which is designed for such a thing) and I’m not sure why it’s acceptable in hockey. No other sport allows fighting. No other form of entertainment offers (at least tacit) encouragement for player to engage in it by having such lax penalties. Even football, which is the most brutal of games, ejects players immediately for any punches thrown.
Hockey is a beautiful game and just because it gets vicious at times doesn’t mean players will be left helpless if suddenly fighting isn’t allowed. The argument that guys might start carrying their sticks in a more dangerous way would have been more reasonable back in the old days, but with two referees and constant video review (for after-the-fact suspensions or discipline), I’m not so sure that getting rid of fighting would inspire the uptick in stick fouls that Carp suggests.
The best argument for fighting is that it might cost the NHL some fans to ban it, but the truth is that there are probably a dwindling number of fans who go to hockey games for the fights anymore because, as you mentioned, the number donnybrooks and all-out brawls has decreased. Would doing away with it entirely really send that many fans running for WWE?
Hockey is a great sport that can stand on its own merits. It doesn’t need fighting to be exciting. It just doesn’t.