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Should the NHL ban fighting in hockey?

By Elad De Piccioto
 Jim McIsaac / Stringer
*Updated 2018
Hockey is the only major-league sport in which fighting is tolerated to some extent. NHL players are not automatically suspended for fighting, unlike in the MLB, NFL or NBA. However, with growing concern over head injuries in sports, it seems inevitable for the NHL to take serious steps towards banning fighting; even Congress has demanded that the league address this subject. On the other hand, many hockey fans still see fighting as 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 in the sport’s popularity. However, a recent survey by Yahoo Sports/YouGov shows that most NHL fans believe that a formal ban on fighting would have “no impact” on viewership.

The numbers are even growing among fans who consider themselves “very interested” NHL fans. 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 can cause serious head trauma. Colton Orr, for example, suffered a concussion and was ruled out for two NHL seasons. Repeated suffering of 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. 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 can cause them their team’s playoff spot; 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 from 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 will be banned, it will keep coming back in different ways, since it’s embedded into the sport’s culture. A ban on fighting will bring players to turn their sticks into weapons or take “cheap shots” at their rivals when they get frustrated, which will spark fights anyway.

As things are now, 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. In fact, the Bruins’ Brad Marchand has been taking to licking his opponents; while hardly the most mature way to settle disputes, this current form of fighting is relatively harmless.

 

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 society, 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 most TV reality 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 in hockey have been pushed to the margins for years; it’s relatively rare nowadays, with fights only occurring in 17% of the games.

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 it die naturally. The change is already happening; the process has already kicked off. There’s no justification for banning fighting.

 

Bottom lines: 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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