Preventing Violence with Violence
How many injuries must occur to NHL players before the league steps in and alters the game? The league can create new rules to avoid hard collisions or to slow down the game, but these changes are not necessary. Enforcers are the ones who protect players on the ice not the league. With the improvements in technology and training players are getting bigger, faster, and stronger. These new attributes have made the game as fast and physical and super star players are in peril. They are becoming more and more injury prone due to the speed of collisions on the ice. The solution to keep star players on the ice is to encourage fighting.
Sirianni writes in The Specialization of Informal Social Control: Fighting in the National Hockey League, “fighting in hockey has been commonplace for generations, and is part of an alleged “code” that is adhered to by all players.” Now, one would think an aspect of brutality that is only allowed in one non-combat sport would be detrimental to player safety. This is a logical assumption as fighting anywhere else in society is a crime punishable by law. However, the code and the law act in the same manner. Both are a set of rules that guide a person on a way to act and more importantly protect individuals from bad actors. Off the rink police enforce these laws. When a player steps on the ice you may think the officials’ police the game, but it is actually done by the players themselves.
Thelen states in her master’s thesis Fighting in Ice Hockey: There is More Behind a Clenched Fist than Pain,
“as for the code, to me it was what we, as hockey players, lived by. The code was a living, breathing thing among us. It changed and evolved as the rules changed and evolved, and it took a life of its own. The basic premise of the code is that you have to answer for your actions on the ice. You learn it pretty early on in your hockey career, and it doesn’t take very long to figure out just how important it is. The code says that you play hard and physically in order to get yourself more space out on the ice, but you don’t take advantage of guys who aren’t in a position to defend themselves along the way.”
This notion does not appear on any page in the NHL rule book nor does any official partake in the code. A mutual understanding between all participants provides a consequence for an action.
Hockey is a sport that sees plenty of injuries. Broken bones, torn ligaments, and concussions are common among players at all levels. McKay writes in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “Injury rates in collegiate and professional men’s leagues have reportedly ranged from 2.3 to 79.2 injuries/1000 player hours.” This is quite the range and a little odd to think about. How does one have 2.3 injuries? To elaborate further on this idea, it essentially means that per 1000 hours of on ice time a player should expect to at least 2 injuries with varying severity. It is safe to assume a game with a six-ounce puck would have injuries regardless of the officiating. This begs the question; how do we keep players safe?
Safety on the ice is the leagues utmost priority. Sirianni in mentions, “my overwhelming impression from reading the literature, from hearing the testimony of players from the early to mid-1900’s and from poring over the news clippings, is that early hockey was very much like war, the blood flowed freely.” Instances of people swinging sticks on the ice have led to death and criminal charges. Although this is not common it still appears in the game today. Players always have sticks and blades on their feet which can be changed from hockey equipment to weapons in a blink of an eye. Seeing a person with either item on the street may be freighting, but much like hockey, we have protection provided by police.
Safety can be provided in many ways. Across America people carry firearms for protection. Most of the time they are concealed and are only noticeable to the trained eye. When a scenario arises where self defense is imminent a firearm can be used as a deterrent. A single shot does not need to be fired for the gun to deter a criminal. As a police officer hovers their hand over their holstered pistol a person realizes the consequence that their action will cause. Similarly, the mere threat of releasing the K-9 unit is enough to stop a retreating criminal.
The idea safety can be granted without any physical action being taken is also illustrated by placing a home defense sign in your front yard. Kuhns writes in Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective, “about 60% of the burglars indicated that the presence of an alarm would cause them to seek an alternative target altogether.” The very idea of a security system is powerful enough to dismay over half burglars from invading a home. No police were needed, and no crime took place.
In both of these cases, firearms and security systems, the idea of a consequence prevented crime. There were no police involved or actions from authorities needed. In the NHL protection can be gained by the same means. The code enforces these unspoken rules of engagement on the ice and keeps players on the ice.
Doroshenko states in Fighting in Hockey – Player Perceptions, “the game is extremely fast-paced with players skating up to 30 miles per hour and pucks flying at up to 90 miles per hour. Physical consequences of an action are the guiding factors that determine right and wrong. Penalties for fighting and violence in hockey are punishments, but rewards and reinforcement for aggressive behavior send a mixed signal to the players for their actions.” In a game with such extreme speed and power injury is guarantee. The choice the NHL officials have made to prevent these injuries and keep star players on the ice is to increase penalties and discourage violence within the game. However, efforts like these have not lead to a significant decrease in injury and the true protection of star players comes down to their own teammates.
Heroes need to fight. Whether it is on the gridiron or the ice, viewers love to watch star athletes play at what seems to be a superhuman level. Star players make sports more exciting. Exciting enough that these athletes become heroes in our society. The best way to ensure these heroes stay on the ice is to encourage fighting in the game of hockey. Not only does the physical violence of fighting create a safer environment on the ice, but the mere threat of violence also helps keep the game in check.
Hockey is a game of speed and skill. As the game has evolved it has become more and more dangerous. If one was to watch hockey from the 60’s or 70’s it would almost be considered a different game. Players using wooden sticks, goalies’ barley wearing pads, and not a helmet in sight. This would lead a person to believe the game was more dangerous back then. However, this was the time period where the enforcer ruled with an iron fist.
McKay writes in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “a total of 1,685 individual players were injured during the six-year analysis stretching from 2006 until 2012.” A rigorous analysis of all injuries found the main cause of injuries in the NHL was body checking. Body checks can cause severe damage to the brain leading to CTE. At the speed of on ice collisions it is expected to cause pain. Causing pain in hockey is a strategy that has been proven to win games.
To combat these collisions another type of battle must ensue. This battle occurs in both the mind and the body. Thelen writes in Fighting In Ice Hockey: There is More Behind a Clenched Fist than Pain, “fighting in ice hockey occurs when disrespectful and dirty plays do not get called or seen, and the players take justice into their own hands with The Code. The Code is simple, play dirty and retaliate dirty, you will be held accountable for your actions on the ice.” This idea of The Code is well known in hockey across all levels of play.
The Code is similar to the unwritten rules of baseball as well. Both work in the same manner to protect individuals without any action be taken. However, when punishment is needed it is handed out in both sports. In baseball, a batter may be brushed off the plate for previous actions. Some more unfriendly actions even warrant a better to be plunked in the back with a fastball. Each individual scenario can be debated; whether the batter deserved the punishment or not, but the debate never questions the unwritten rules itself.
Doroshenko mentions in Fighting in Hockey — Player Perceptions “I’d rather see a player fight and lose than turn his cheek and not fight at all, and I think a lot of the players are like that.” This mantra is commonly heard throughout all levels of hockey when one is asked their perception on fighters. Doroshenko mentions the sport is built on toughness and even in “the first hockey game ever played indoors under written rules, it ended in a fight where many players brawled with members of a skating club.” From the start of the game fighting has been a part of its DNA. With the long-standing precedent, it is not unexpected for players to have the idea all players should be fighters in their mind.
In the study conducted by Doroshenko he states, “almost 70 percent of the participants concluded that fighting is needed within the game.” His study conducted with Division 1 ice hockey players from the northeast United States found this significant result. Now, one may question why the players are so compelled to feel violence is needed in their sport, but his results do not specify why but just provide their significance.
Branching off Doroshenko’s research it can be concluded that players feel safe when an enforcer is on their team. Colburn pens in Honor, Ritual and Violence in Ice Hockey, “fighting is understood as a form of retaliation and informal punishment after an offending player endangers an opponent through an act of aggression or carelessness. Referees can impose formal penalties in games, but their ability to monitor can be limited.” Through a secondary system player manage the on ice activities. This may be clear when you take a broad look at the idea, referees control the players and players control the game. However, with a more nuanced approach it becomes clear that the players themselves are the ones controlling the game and the officials. When a puck is stuck in the corner and two or three players are digging, kicking grabbing, and slashing it is not clear to an onlooking official what exactly is happening. These types of plays lead to injury and retaliation. However, when the presence of an enforcer is added these scrums tend to end in a clean and safe manner.
Lastly, Sirianni writes in The Specialization of Informal Social Control: Fighting in the National Hockey League from 1947-2019, “the game of ice hockey presents a collective action problem: competing teams have an incentive to play in a manner that could physically harm their opponents but maximizes their own probability of winning.” As explained by Sirianni, teams stand to benefit from injuring players. This phenomenon is only seen in a few sports with hockey being the only that allows combat to prevent it. Through the use of The Code players minimize this risk and when someone goes against The Code they are met with extreme consequences.
Afterall, hockey is a dangerous game. Through the progression of media hockey has become more and more accessible to the average American. With such high interest, players become stars but they are not your typical celebrities. These men abide by a code of honor on the ice which entails complete brutality. Through the players willingness to abide by The Code, the players officiate themselves thus creating a safer environment on the ice.
Even the truest thesis or argument has deniers. Nonetheless, some critics believe fighting should not be allowed in hockey. Critics take a surface level look at a brawl on the ice. They see a drop of blood, or a broken nose and look away in horror but do not recognize that security has been restored. They see a brawl and think these men must love violence, when it really is an act of love for their teammates. If they would take the time to analyze the data, critics would actually find teams with enforcers suffer far less injuries and keep stars on the ice for longer stretches. The moments of brutality blind them from the benefits gained from the scrum and focus only on old cliches such as leading children by example.
To begin with, a study in the journal Men and Masculinities, stated that, “interpersonal aggression is common in the lives of these hockey players, both on and off the ice.” This take is blatantly untrue. A hockey game is 60 minutes long barring any over time is played. If players were ridden with interpersonal aggression as the study concluded, the games would quickly escalate from sport to riot. Rarely, if ever, does any event of such kind happen at an NHL game. Additionally, a study in the Marquette Sports Law Review conducted a background check for every professional athlete in the MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL to collect the number of crimes committed compared to the general population. O’Hear states that, “a combination of NBA and NHL players account for only 6% of total crimes committed” when analyzing professional athletes’ criminal history. Clearly NHL players are not the violent athletes.
Another blatant objection to Pappas’ journal in Men and Masculinities 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 even the season, players remain controlled on the ice. They are deterred by the repercussions of their actions. The enforcers job is done. This clearly illustrates the player are not violent men, they just are acting within a certain set of rules to maintain order and safety.
The old adage, violence is never the answer is wrong. 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.” A clear and obvious retort to this adage is exemplified by NHL players. Violence is the answer and ‘goons’ are there to enforce the rules. Without the enforcers the refs are left powerless on the ice.
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. Reppucci writes in the San Fran Chronicle, “I can no longer rationalize hockey’s most blatant cause of head trauma. I worry that the game I love is on the wrong side of history, despite the natural trends trying to guide it into the future.”
Concussions are a major concern with any type of athlete. In hockey, concussions are prevalent and can lead to lasting health problems. This is no different than the problem the NFL sees with CTE from recurring concussions. Both are contact sports where player launch their bodies at another person at high speeds. A major 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 region was the head (16.8%).” Reppucci’s anecdote is a not an accurate depiction of when injuries occur
Nevertheless, we do not live in a perfect world and head injuries will occur no matter what rules are implemented. However, 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 and keep players safer our sights should not be set on fighting.
Another obvious 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.
Reppucci erroneously claims, “there is also a moral imperative to ban fighting right now. Many young players are incentivized to seek out fights in the name of increasing their potential value at the next level.” Again, his thoughts could not be further from the truth. It is not the responsibility of the league itself to control the actions of the players. It is the responsibility of the players to control their own actions. Enforcers on the ice are the best way to deter other players actions. Additionally, physicality when administered properly by a player is a useful tactic to win a game. Discouraging this type of play would ruin the game we all came to love.
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 body checking. The largest aspect to controlling body checking is having an enforcer on the ice.
Colburn Jr., Kenneth. 1986. “Honor, Ritual and Violence in Ice Hockey.” The Canadian Journal of Sociology 10: 153–70.
Doroshenko, Jordan, “Fighting in Hockey — Player Perceptions” (2013). Sport Management Undergraduate. Paper 61.
John Buccigross, “The Pros and Cons of Fighting in the NHL,” espn.com, Jan. 8, 2007
Kuhns, Joseph. (2012). Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective. 10.13140/2.1.2664.4168.
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
O’Hear, Michael (2001). “Blue-Collar Crimes/White-Collar Criminals: Sentencing Elite Athletes Who Commit Violent Crimes”. Marquette Sports LawReview.
Reppucci, Jeffrey. “It Is Time to Ban Fighting in the NHL.” San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, 12 Oct. 2021
Sirianni, A. (2019, February 22). The Specialization of Informal Social Control: Fighting
in the National Hockey League from 1947-2019.
Thelen, D. G. B. (2022). Fighting In Ice Hockey: There is More Behind a Clenched Fist than Pain (Master’s thesis).
At this point I am just looking to see if this seems like a complete paper that actually makes sense. I plan to rework the definition portion again and possibly all three sections.
Good Plan, GB. I’m just back from a look at your Rebuttal revisions. Some very nice work there.
It’s a complete paper that makes sense, but several of the paragraphs need re-ordering (maybe more than just re-ordering). It will be hard for you to experience the material “for the first time” because of your over-familiarity with it. But a first-time reader will wonder, for example, why you drop and then re-introduce the material about body-checking. Have somebody read the whole thing for the first time specifically to see if it flows. I can make my own suggestions, but I don’t want to be the only voice you hear on this.
One more thing that I will go on the record about:
Your Introduction is strong, so you earn some patience from readers, but it will not last forever. The longer you tease us with vague references to a Code you haven’t detailed, the harder it is for us to be persuaded of its value. Move that explanation forward, at least the portion of it that states “dirty play will be swiftly and harshly met with brief, violent retaliation” and the further explanation that both players and referees understand, commit to, and comply with The Code. Once we know the rules, we’ll be easier to persuade.
I made some organizational changes like you requested. I put the definition of the code way further up in the paper. I also corrected the stat I included without any context. Please point out what the big issues you’re still seeing are and I will get those corrected before another round of feedback
I still find myself wondering “Where are we in this argument?” all the way through, GB. Too many stops and starts, doubling-backs, dead ends. Good material, yes, but lacking in an organization plan and guidance for readers.