The debate continues: Should fighting be eliminated from the game of hockey? The problem with the debate is that this is not a valid question. Fighting is not a part of the game of hockey. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary (because who uses an actual dictionary anymore) states: “a game played on an ice rink in which two teams of six players on skates use curved sticks to try to shoot a puck into the opponent's goal.” Nowhere in that definition does it say anything of fighting. Moreover, if one were to travel to a young person’s local hockey game, he would view a natural and normal state of the fundamentals of the game. From there, it is merely an opinion as to whether that game is interesting, barring there is no personal investment in the game.
There have been various arguments when the debate arises. “Maybe there is a place for fighting in hockey” says Dr. David Milzman, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Georgetown, in a 2011 article from HealthDay commenting that fistfights in hockey do not pack enough punch to cause major injuries.
Conversely, others claim it is an utter disgrace to the actual sport saying, “Fighting only leads to more fighting. I have seen no empirical evidence that it reduces injuries [defending other skilled players].”Lain Fyffe continues to provide a very interesting point of view in his article“Fightin’ Mad.”
Switching gears, let us put fighting into perspective. Recently, in Pittsburghthere was a downtown school teacher walking from his car to the school. An adolescent male in a group of peers decided to lay out this school teacher with one solid punch to the jaw. It was caught on video and displayed on that evening’s news. My reaction to the occurrence was disgust for the adolescent and sympathy for the teacher. I presume my emotions were echoed by other viewers as well. However, if I viewed Matt Cooke and Scott Hartnell dropping the gloves and throwing haymakers, I guarantee that my feelings would be quite different. I assume those same emotions would be echoed by other fans as well.
Diversifying the controversy even more, medical experts, including Dr. Charles H. Tator a neuropsychologist at Toronto WesternHospital, try and establish evidence stating, “We in science can dot the line between blows to the head, brain degeneration, and all of these other issues.” Researchers have recently been bringing up the death of Derek Boogard believing that his overdose from alcohol and painkillers was cause from symptoms of C.T.E., or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
It all depends on one’s personal opinions and backgrounds that form the best argument for this everlasting debate. It was while I was researching information for this article that my opinion swayed from fighting is needed for protection to the idea that fighting is essential for TV ratings and the growth of the sport. Originally, I defended fighting saying that fighting protected star players such as Claude Giroux, Sidney Crosby, and Mike Richards (all who had concussions in the 2011-2012 season). Whereas now, I’m thinking that the NHL and its commissioner, Gary Bettman have downplayed the findings of concussion injuries so that the TV ratings stay high. With 24 overtime playoff wins, NBC reporting that the ratings in first-round were above 50 percent from the previous year, and the highest number of suspensions and penalties handed out (of which I contribute much to the Penguins/Flyers heated playoff series) in the recent 2012 playoffs, it is a no brainer, from the business perspective, why fighting is still prominent in the league.
Besides, in this 2012-2013 hockey season, fans, cities, businesses, and players are experiencing the fourth NHL lockout under Gary Bettman causing not only the loss of obvious TV ratings, but also a loss of approximately $250 million NHL dollars according to Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. It’s obvious that the debate over fighting is not on the table at all during the NHL and NHLPA meetings that are occurring over these recent months. Therefore, not only will fighting be back whenever hockey resumes, but I believe it will remain for a while just to boost financial gains. Twenty-years from now, if the confrontations are penalized so severely that the art of fighting disappears from the sport, there will still be fighting. A star play gets a cross-check to the neck or a goalie gets elbowed in the face will be the cause a yet another fight. But the problem with that kind of brawl is that it no longer becomes a battle between two individuals honoring each others’ skill in a scuffle. It becomes a street fight on an ice-rink.
Do we as fans enjoy seeing the fights in hockey? Generally, I would say yes. Does the battle spark the rest of the team and fans to get a job done such as when Max Talbot put his finger over his lips during a playoff game against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010-2011 season (ironically he later went to Philly)? Again, I would agree with the general fan base. Even though it seems to be the fight that is remembered, studies have shown that there is a negative correlation between fights and games won in a season.
Be the fan that loves the game of hockey and enjoys the sideshow fighting that occurs whether randomly or established prior to puck drop. Because in reality, that is all hockey fighting is, a sideshow. The fast paced, adrenaline driven excitement of the game is what keeps a real fan on the edge of the seat. It’s the tied game seven of the rivalry playoff game, the sudden death overtime, the dramatic shootout that keeps the real fan coming back, wanting more.
About the Author
Rob Benvin is a “yinzer” sports fan and a teacher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Yes, the sports city where all of the major sports teams wear the same colors (black and gold). Born in Bozeman, Montana, his family moved to Pittsburgh when he was four years old and he grew up on pierogies and Primanti’s. Rob went to college at the University of Charleston, WV where he graduated with a BA in English Education and a Leadership minor. Being married and having his first child on the way, he truly feels he living the American dream with family being the best luxury. Rob played baseball for twenty-three years and was a catcher for twenty-two of them. Although his experience sits with our American pastime, his love and addiction for hockey has grown over the past few years.