No idea comes without a counterargument and this theory remains true in regard to fighting in hockey. Critics take a surface level look at the violent aspect of the game but fail to appreciate the positivity and safe environment it creates. Without a true deep dive into the understanding of the players’ minds on the ice, the opposition would draw an incorrect impression. Additionally, failing to acknowledge the empirical evidence surrounding fighting is another key flaw in the counterargument. While fighting in hockey has advantages both seen and unseen on the ice, critics cite injury, and that hockey glorifies violence leaving a bad example for children and viewers.
To begin with, a clear and obvious argument against fighting is it is violent, and violence is wrong. As society progresses throughout time, we have become more and more tame. We throw violent offenders in jail and teach children from a young age violence is never the answer. According to a study in the journal Men and Masculinities, which stated, “the findings indicate that interpersonal aggression is common in the lives of these hockey players, both on and off the ice.” If society now views violence in a negative light why would a nationally televised sports league allow fighting in a game where the objective is to score the most goals?
In contrast to this viewpoint, violence is not always a bad thing. In our world, countries go to war with each other over acts of aggression. Violence is met with violence to create a safer world. The same notion is played out on the ice. Buccigross writes in The Pros and Cons of Fighting in the NHL, “hockey players don’t fight just for the sake of violence; combat within the context of the game serves as a deterrent to hurting star players because the aggressors know there will be pay back.”
This point is further illustrated in the NHL postseason when fighting severely drops off. Goldschmied writes in “I Went to a Fight the Other Night and a Hockey Game Broke Out’: Is Professional Hockey Fighting Calculated or Impulsive?”, “the fact that fights happen less in the postseason, when teams are focused on winning the championship, shows that players adhere to an unwritten code.” When a penalty for instigating may cost your team the game or season players remain controlled on the ice. They are deterred by the repercussions of their actions. This clearly illustrates the player are not violent men, they just are acting within a certain set of rules to maintain order and safety.
Next, it is not uncommon to see hands cut open from blows to helmets nor a bloody nose as the player glides to the penalty box to serve their five-minute major for fighting. Some would argue this is bad and any type of injury should be avoided if it can be. An outright ban on fighting would keep both players safe in this scenario, but only temporarily.
However, these wounds are superficial. They leave players with a mere cut or scrape which will not deter a player from returning to the ice. In a game where the players are toted as the toughest in all of sports, a minor injury will not lead to any missed playing time. Furthermore, hockey players celebrate injuries. Missing teeth is a badge of honor in the hockey world. Players willingly dive in front of shots to ensure a puck doesn’t reach the net. Buccigross writes, “the average speed of Slap Shots in the NHL today is right around 100 miles per hour.” A selfless act that causes the player to incur a minor injury yet there’s not a second thought regarding their decision.
Another major concern with any type of athlete is concussions. In hockey, concussions are prevalent and can lead to lasting health problems. This is no different than the problem the NFL sees with CTE. Both are contact sports where player launch their bodies at another person at high speeds. A key difference is the NHL uses a puck that can fly at speeds over 100 mph. McKay writes in British Journal of Sports Medicine which analyzed injuries across all NHL games from 2006-2012, “the most commonly injured body regions was the head (16.8%).” There is no argument against the need to eliminate head injuries. In a perfect world players would not have to worry about concussion or the long-term effects they may cause.
Nevertheless, we do not live in a perfect world and head injuries will occur no matter what rules are implemented. So, knowing this truth, we move to eliminating head injuries in any way we can. This is a fair conclusion but there is one key aspect critics overlook. Head injuries or concussions rarely occur from fighting on the ice. McKay also states, “body checking accounted for the largest proportion of injuries (28.2%).” Therefore, if we want to reduce the amount of head injuries are sights should not be set on fighting.
Another obvious key aspect to hockey that is sometimes overlooked is the game is played on ice. When two players engage in a fight the typical stance requires both players to grab onto each other’s jersey. This is to provide stability on a slippery surface. The players spin together, and punches throw each player off balance. It is not uncommon to see both players tumble to the ground before landing any significant strikes. This is not the same type of fight we see in boxing or MMA and these athletes are not trained fighters.
In closing, there are many arguments made by many different people on why the NHL should forbid fighting within the game. Their reasoning varies from ethical reasons to injury related but they fail to address the true nature of our world and where injuries actually occur. Fighting in hockey is a ritual to show respect and to gain control on the ice and injuries occur mainly from bodychecking. The largest aspect to controlling body checking is having an enforcer on the ice.
John Buccigross, “The Pros and Cons of Fighting in the NHL,” espn.com, Jan. 8, 2007
McKay CD, Tufts RJ, Shaffer B, et al The epidemiology of professional ice hockey injuries: a prospective report of six NHL seasons British Journal of Sports Medicine 2014;48:57-62.
Nadav Goldschmied and Samantha Espindola, “‘I Went to a Fight the Other Night and a Hockey Game Broke Out’: Is Professional Hockey Fighting Calculated or Impulsive?,” Sports Health, Sep. 2013
Nick T. Pappas, Patrick C. McKenry, and Beth Skilken Catlett, “Athlete Aggression on the Rink and off the Ice: Athlete Violence and Aggression in Hockey and Interpersonal Relationships,” Men and Masculinities, Jan. 2004