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Sports    |   #NHL

Should the NHL ban fighting in hockey?

By Elad De Piccioto
 Jim McIsaac / Stringer
*Updated 2023
Hockey is the only major-league professional sport in which fighting is largely tolerated. In the NHL, unlike in the MLB, NFL or NBA, players are not automatically suspended for fighting. Although fighting has declined significantly in recent years, it is still common in the NHL.  However, with growing concern over head injuries in professional sports, it seems inevitable for the league to take serious steps toward banning fighting altogether. On the other hand, many hockey fans and the NHL commissioner still see fighting as an integral and exciting part of the game.
Here are three reasons why fighting in hockey should be banned and three reasons why it shouldn’t:


Fighting in hockey should be banned:


Banning fighting won’t affect hockey’s popularity

The standard claim of those who advocate fighting in hockey is that it’s a major element of the sport’s popularity. However, most NHL fans, even those who are very devoted, believe that a formal ban on fighting would have no impact on viewership. True NHL fans watch the game for the skills demonstrated, not for the potential fighting – a fact that has been validated by studies. Thus, banning fighting in the NHL won’t affect the league’s popularity.


Fighting endangers players’ lives

In addition to the traditional fighting injuries – including broken faces, hands, noses and eye sockets – fighting in hockey can cause serious head trauma. Colton Orr, for example, suffered a concussion and was benched for two NHL seasons. Joe Murphy went from an NHL championship winner to a homeless beggar, suffering from mental issues that some have connected to multiple head injuries sustained during his career. As we’ve seen in other sports, specifically the NFL, repeated concussions can cause serious damage in the long term. Frequent head blows and concussions cause CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which leads to memory loss, depression, and dementia, among other issues. There’s a growing discussion about head injuries in sports, and it’s about time the NHL follows the NFL’s “Concussion Protocol” and bans fighting, where the actual goal is to hit other players in the head.


No fighting is hockey’s natural selection

Fighting in hockey has become irrelevant. League owners want to eliminate it since they prefer not to pay enforcers (whose job is to deter and respond to violent play by the opposition). Plus, fights promote bans, which can lead to losing games, and every loss can impede a team’s playoff spot in an extremely competitive and balanced league like the NHL. Most importantly, players want fighting eliminated; this was relayed by the Florida Panthers’ veteran defenseman, Willie Mitchell, who said the league needed to do a “better job” defending players.  As recent years have seen the lowest fights-per-game average in the NHL compared to the past few decades, banning fighting is just stamping out something that will be gone by natural selection anyhow – so why not do it now?

Fighting in hockey shouldn’t be banned: 


Fighting serves as a restraining factor for violence in the NHL

Let’s be realistic: Fighting won’t vanish from hockey. If it is banned, it will keep coming back in different ways, since it’s embedded in the sport’s culture. A ban on fighting may inspire players to turn their sticks into weapons or take “cheap shots” at their rivals when they get frustrated, which will spark fights anyway. Violence is regulated by fights, which serve as a “policing” factor in the NHL. Fighting, which is informally regulated, prevents reckless players from hurting skillful players during the game, thus making the game safer for players.


Fighting in hockey is a catharsis

Hockey is one of the most physical of all sports. Also, hockey fans are some of the most loyal sports fans, who love the physical and aggressive aspect of the game. For them, fighting may not be ideal, but it’s not a barbaric ritual either; rather, it’s a situation where a player makes the ultimate sacrifice for his team. So, every once in a while, players fight. In our purist-civilized and politically correct society, perhaps we need to make room for this catharsis. Hockey fighting allows fans – who often live through the players – to experience an old-school fight in a controlled, regulated environment. If you’re going to ban fighting in hockey, you might as well ban TV news or most reality TV shows.


Hockey has come miles since its violent past; let it progress naturally

There is no comparison between today’s hockey with that of the bloody era of the 80’s. Violence and fighting have been pushed to the margins for years; it’s relatively rare nowadays, with the rate dropping to just 0.18 fights per game in 2020. Fighting is part of hockey’s culture, and cultural change takes time. Instead of trying to bury the phenomena with regulations and suspensions that hurt the game, let the trend of fighting fade away naturally. The change is already happening; the process has already kicked off. So why quit cold turkey by banning fighting outright?


The Bottom Line: Fighting in hockey serves both as a catharsis for fans and as a restraint of other forms of violence by the players. On the other hand, fighting can cause serious damage to players, and banning it won’t affect the sport’s popularity. If you were to buy tickets to an NHL game, would you want to see fighting on the ice?

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