The Fight Over Fighting
It’s Dan Mount and we are almost through the first full week of the NHL season. I’ll be normally doing columns every Monday and Friday unless something big pops up during the week. (The Flyers took care of that for me this week.) I’ll tackle a big issue and pick a couple games to watch. If you like (or don’t like) what I have to say, please leave comments. You can also follow me on Twitter @DanMountSports.
A lot of things came out of the first week of the National Hockey League season, but the main issue that has emerged has been a renewed look at whether fighting should be outlawed. The debate flared back up after Montreal Canadiens enforcer George Parros was injured after a nasty fall during a fight with Toronto Maple Leafs pugilist Colton Orr.
Here is the video. (Fast-forward to 1:47 to see what happened.)
Parros was taken off of on a stretcher and is out indefinitely with a concussion. (He spent the night in the hospital, but was released.) The injury has set off a firestorm of debate with a few general managers like Steve Yzerman of Tampa Bay, Jim Rutherford of Carolina and Ray Shero of Pittsburgh said they should hand out stiffer penalties for people that drop the gloves. (Yzerman even said there should be a ban on it.) The debate has been ongoing amongst fans for years, with the majority (depending on where you go) saying there’s still a place for it in the game. (Although a Globe and Mail poll said Canadians they talked to want a ban.)
We have seen numerous injuries and the deaths of former enforcers like Wade Belak, Bob Probert and Derek Boogaard stemming from the toll taken by years of fighting. Former goons Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson have even linked head trauma caused by fighting has led to substance abuse and alcohol abuse. (Which led to the CBC analyst Don Cherry calling them out on it.) Ralph Nader even weighed in on it.
If fighting is so bad and unsafe, then why hasn’t Commissioner Gary Bettman banned it? Yahoo’s Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski had a great column wondering about the quandary that Bettman has. The first reason is that the players overwhelmingly are in favor of it. (98 percent were in favor in that latest poll in 2012.) The poll asked skilled and unskilled players, North Americans and Europeans and players from all sorts of backgrounds and they want to keep it in the game.
Bettman also said that issue is “complicated” and fans seem to really love it. The NHL doesn’t go out of its way to market fighting, but it’s not been rejected. You can still get video of fights when you want to get highlights of certain games. There are still fans that attend the games because of fights in the same vein that some racing fans attend races to see the car crashes. Player safety is important, but the pocketbook is also a big factor in if it stays.
Even though the NHL isn’t looking to ban fighting outright, the league is trying to regulate it. They did pass the instigator (or third man in rule.) and a new rule that bans fighters from taking off their own helmets during a fight. I do respect the league’s efforts to give the fans what they want, but also to make it safer. One other thing they could do is to ban staged fights, which are just for show and don’t really have emotion behind them.
However, I am someone that wants to keep fighting in the game. It is necessary because if you outlaw fighting, star players like a Sid Crosby, John Tavares and others will be targeted by thugs that cheap shot people. If a guy steps out of line, he should be made to pay the piper. I don’t know if many people watched old school hockey from the 1980s, but Wayne Gretzky operated with a lot of real estate back in the day. The main reason was his skill, but he also had an enforcer named Dave Semeko on the wing with him. If anyone breathed on The Great One, they’d eat some fists from the old “Cement Head.”
I’m not saying let’s go back to the goon hockey of the 1970s, but there needs to be some sort of comeuppance for a guy that cross the line. People don’t want a game full of rats like Ken Linseman that use stick work and thuggery to get a star. The NHL needs its stars to market the game on the ice and not in the box or in the owner’s box watching due to an injury.
Sadly, the only way fighting in the league could end is if someone dies. CBC’s Glenn Healy even made that point on the air during the Leafs-Canadiens broadcast. However, Parros doesn’t want to be the person the anti-fighting crowd rallies around. He and most enforcers know the risks that come when they drop the gloves. Fighting and the number of goons have gone down on its own over the last couple of decades. It’ll keep going that way because teams want to score and have talented skaters. However, enforcers are still needed in this league.
Dan Mount is an NHL and college football writer for TJRSports.com. He is based out of Watertown, N.Y.