Ban fighting? Sounds like a knee-jerk reaction

Why do many feel the need to change the culture of hockey? Does it seem broken to you? I know it’s in our (guys’) blood to always find a remedy or cure a problem, because we strive to be the ultimate problem solver. But many times our solutions are unwarranted or completely unnecessary.

Case in point: Sportsnet columnist, Jim Kelley, who I respect as a writer, wrote that the NHL NEEDS to ban fighting, based on the unfortunate incident that has left 21-year-old Don Sanderson in a coma after his helmet fell off during a fight and he smacked his head on the ice.

Of course it is tragic what happened to Sanderson. I wouldn’t wish that on any opponent or young player playing the game. Sanderson plays Senior AAA hockey in Ontario, and just like here in the Chinook AAA guys still drop the mitts in games.

Sanderson was a willing combatant. He didn’t take his helmet off prior to the fight — it came off during the fight. Kelley makes another typical knee-jerk reaction in declaring that Sanderson’s case proves why fighting needs to be banned.

How often has it happened in the NHL or other pro leagues is the real issue. Never is the answer. The only NHL player to die on the ice was Minnesota North Star, Bill Masterton. (On January 13th, 1968 Masterton died when he fell and hit his head on the ice.) More players have died on the ice after taking a puck in the chest or neck, compared to players dying in a fight. Some, like former Oiler Sergei Zholtok, or recent first rounder Alexei Cherepanov have collapsed and died due to heart failure.

How come Kelley or others, who get on their soapbox ranting about fighting, haven’t led the charge to get titanium chest protectors or neck protectors? Because they don’t truly care about the well being of the players, they just don’t like fighting. And unfortunately their weak argument is that it MIGHT happen. Based on that reasoning, we should all drive with helmets, or even better walk around wearing a helmet to protect us from a head injury because it MIGHT happen.

The NHL has been around for more than 100 years. There have been more than 45,000 games played and not one player has died in a fight. And this includes more than 25,000 games where players didn’t wear helmets. Sorry Mr. Kelley, there is no basis to your argument other than you don’t like fighting. Don’t tell us that we don’t need it, because they don’t fight in Europe or that it isn’t as prevalent in the playoffs.

Who cares how they play it in Europe? We play Canadian hockey, and for once in this country we should stand up for how WE do things. And they do fight in the playoffs, just not as often recently. And why is that? Because the stupid instigator rule allows players to be cheap and not suffer the consequences, because no one wants to take an extra minor that might cost them the game. It wasn’t long ago that the most intense games and FIGHTS occurred in the playoffs between the Bruins/Habs, Oilers/Flames or any of the other great rivalries.

When Jerome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier, the two best players in the series, dropped them in the 2004 Stanley Cup final, fans and pundits adored them. It is still one of the most talked about moments from that series.

And whether you like it or not, those who want to ban fighting are in the minority. And too often the vocal minority is heard, and this is a case where the majority should be heard.

I like fighting. I think it is part of the game and it still has its place. Players need to be able to police the game themselves, because if they can’t we will see more and more neck injuries from cheap hits like we see today.

And the other issue that none of the anti-fighting partisans talk about is CHOICE. Sanderson made the choice to drop his gloves. He and his opponent mutually agreed and they went at it man-to-man. The outcome of that event is awful, but I haven’t heard anyone from the Sanderson family screaming for a ban in fighting, or looking to sue someone, because I believe they understand that their son made a decision. One that they themselves have made on the ice, or probably cheered when someone did it in the NHL.

Too often we demand knee-jerk solutions after watching or reading about tragic events. I pray that Don Sanderson awakes from his coma, and can return to a happy and healthy life. But one unfortunate incident should not change the fabric of our game. Of course, we are more aware of the dangers of fighting, and the possibility, albeit incredibly slim, that a serious injury might occur if we doff the gloves, but we shouldn’t be playing the game, or living our lives, thinking about “what ifs.” It isn’t productive nor is it a foundation for an argument.

  • I also like fighting. It gets fans pumped. (win or lose) And it's darn exciting. A good game for me is if I get to see a real barnburner of a fight. Sometimes a good fight will bring the "effort" of a player out and then we see more hitting in a game. Nothing bad comes from a fight in a hockey game. Toss the instigator rule and the game will be better.

  • Wanye Gretz

    Hear hear Gregor. If the NHL promoted fighting south of the border they would be 100x as popular as they are now.

    Or perhaps someone should get The Commish to explain how SLAMBALL has a national TV deal with Spike whereas the NHL can only be received by Ham Radio Operators in most non NHL cities.

  • MikeL

    Good points, Jason.

    I starting playing rec hockey a few years ago, and quickly realized why fighting is a part of both hockey and lacrosse: these are the only two sports where you are given a weapon and told to play as hard as possible. When you get 12 guys playing a sport, with the adrenaline and testosterone pumping… fighting is in a sense a deterrent from letting guys get carried away, using their sticks as a weapon. I've seen decent guys who turn into a-holes when playing rec hockey, where there's no pressure. I think fighting in hockey at it's highest level has stopped more incidents like the Hollweg, McSorley stick swinging ones from hapenning.

    Yeah, fighting isn't 'civilized.' But it's like taking tasers away from cops: they'll have to shoot people. Take fighting out of the game, and I think you'll see a lot more stick incidents.

  • Ted L

    I would disagree with your assertion that those against fighting simply don't like it. Fighting is a result of players taking retrobution for on-ice activities (largely). It's a method of policing against cheep-shots and other suspect activities that go unpunished by the refs and the NHL.

    Other leagues, such as the NFL and NBA, fighting is not tolerated. Football is an especially violent and emotional sport similar to hockey. Discipline is handed out by the respective leagues. This lends much more credibility to those leagues because the competition on the field/court is played out by superior coaching/players, not by which team has the biggest baddest fighters.

    If the NHL wasn't so poor at handing out the proper disciplinary actions against suspect players/plays, then fighting would slowly be weened out of the game.

    That said I still enjoy the occasional fight, but only when it's by average players defending their team. I don't enjoy the 'designated fighters' going at it just because they both need to justify their respective place on the team.

  • Milli

    These dudes should work for the BC government. You know we got a law against filling up with gas before you pay, cuz 1 guy got killed, 1 guy outta how many??? Only in BC, and maybe the NHL!!!!!

  • freeze

    There have been a couple young guys that died due to a shot hitting them in the heart at the wrong moment; do we see anyone wanting to ban the slap shot? Souray could kill someone. Stop him, before it's too late!!

  • Jason Gregor

    @ Ted L:

    You can't compare the two. Basketball is not as physical, and you are allowed to run over a guy in basketball like you are in hockey. Plus in the last ten years, who has had more bench brawls, hockey or basketball? And let's be honest have you seen basketball players throw a punch? It's embarrassing.

    As for football, they are wearing full face masks, so trying to punch a guy in the face wouldn't accomplish much, other than maybe breaking your hand.

    I'd rather see a hockey fight, than have the players carry guns and get into bar fights constantly. Maybe if they allowed fighting on the court or field then the guys would release some of their aggression, because the NFL and NBA have a horrible track record away from the game compared to the NHL.

  • DrPow

    Amen Jason.

    Anyone who was at the game against Phoenix knows how entertaining a good fight can be. What bothers me, is that now it seems like whenever there is a big hit, even a good clean hit, there has to be a fight. You shouldnt have to drop the mits just because Eric Lafontaine didnt keep his noggin' up as he flew up the neutral zone.

  • Hello there,
    I am Peter Robert Casey and I am a basketball columnist. I have initiated an idea to create a sports blogroll where bloggers from all sports disciplines could participate. All you need to do is to add my blog link to your blog and i'll do the same. That way, we could have a mutual partnership and we could refer visitors to each other's blog.
    Please let me know if you would be interested.

    Your's in Hoops,
    Peter Robert Casey

  • Mike

    peter robert casey wrote:

    Hello there,
    I am Peter Robert Casey and I am a basketball columnist. I have initiated an idea to create a sports blogroll where bloggers from all sports disciplines could participate. All you need to do is to add my blog link to your blog and i’ll do the same. That way, we could have a mutual partnership and we could refer visitors to each other’s blog.
    Please let me know if you would be interested.
    Your’s in Hoops,
    Peter Robert Casey

    Does this look like a basketball discussion?

  • Dennis Castro

    Why take out one of the few true momentum changing aspects in hockey out of the game. A goal, a big hit, or a fight to get retribution gives any team a lift. Now what they should do is remove the stinking instigator rule and let the players discipline themselves.

    One more thing, since were all of a sudden talking basketball on a hockey site, maybe the NBA should allow fighting it would make Raptors games a bit more exciting. They could fight if the game was still tied through 2OT's, take 1 guy from both teams and make them bare knuckle box for the win. Imagine the possiblilities: Shaq vs. Kobe, now thats what I call must see tv.