To fight, or not to fight
Now that I live in Philly there is no shortage of people to talk hockey with, but even after Sunday night’s
WWF matchup hockey game between the deplorable Penguins and the Flyers, most have either been content to shrug and say “that’s playoff hockey” or are still foaming at the mouth from all the excitement.
All the shop talk has made me realize that I’m leaning towards a pretty unpopular argument: I think fighting should be banned in the NHL.
Even Grantland’s Katie Baker has danced the question, although the possibility of a ban seems to carry more weight than usual right now with more vicious playoff fighting this year than most people have ever seen.
I don’t think I’m ready to write an impassioned 800-word op-ed arguing for a fighting ban just yet, but I do think taking a thorough look at the pros and cons on each side of the coin might be a good starting place.
At the very least, it’s fair to say we can’t accept, “it’ll take away from the spirit of the game,” (or some version of that) as an excuse for avoiding this debate.
Argument: For allowing fighting in the NHL
1) It’s tradition: fighting has always been part of the game (i.e., frontier justice, etc.)
2) Allows to players to police themselves, especially if a ref misses a call
3) Fighting is an outlet for frustration that prevents bigger, more dangerous hits
4) Attracts fans
5) Raises TV ratings
1) Players try to control the game with fighting
2) More injuries, especially to the head where most players tend to punch
3) Feeds tempers and violence, especially when players that typically don’t fight get involved
4) Could lead to more wild checks and dangerous behavior in the wake of a bad fight
5) Fighting makes hockey players seem like goons instead of like athletes
Argument: For a ban on fighting in the NHL
1) Fewer injuries from fighting and probably fewer missing teeth
2) Junior hockey players wouldn’t feel compelled to fight in order to make it in the NHL
3) Fewer distractions from regular play
4) Fewer roster spots allocated to bruisers i.e., guys who can punch, but can’t actually skate
5) Less rage, more strategy
6) Potentially less damage, in the aggregate, to individual players’ heads
7) Fewer players feeling obligated to fight because it’s their “job”
1) Limited on-ice outlets for intense emotion or mutual dislike between opposing players
2) TV ratings go down the tubes
3) Loss of fans who like watching hockey for the fighting
4) Fewer “bruiser” type players drafted to NHL
5) Loss of frequently referenced “frontier justice”
6) Lord Stanley turns over in his grave
Ok, ok, so that last one is not 100 percent rigorous.
What’s immediately interesting when you look over these lists is how different the pros and cons look depending on how you approach the argument — especially the pros.
The takeaway, so far, is there are a few issues that must be addressed in order to answer the question of whether fighting should be allowed in hockey: appeal of the game to fans and casual viewers, player welfare, player training from mites to pro, financial consequences for the league, and NHL playing style.
Like I said, I’m leaning towards the cut-the-crap-and-ban-fighting camp, though it’s a small one. But if there are pieces of this debate you think I’m missing, shoot me a note.
The controversy over fighting in the NHL is defining the way we play, watch, and talk about hockey today.
And, if we really care about the spirit of the game, it’s one that shouldn’t be dismissed for too much longer.
Yael Borofsky is a writer, editor, and Philadelphia sports fan. Follow her on Twitter @yaelborofsky.