Hockey is a physical, demanding sport that has been around for better than a century. It is the ultimate test of endurance, will and teamwork ability. I haven’t played it much, however you can tell the aforementioned statements are true just by watching a hockey game in person or on television. Missing teeth, bruised bodies and scarred faces aren’t very savory or becoming too many people. Hockey players, on the other hand, wear them like badges of courage. Along with the physicality comes the fighting aspect of hockey, and the controversy begins.
Fighting has been a part of hockey since its inception more than a century ago. Things get tense during the heat of a game, and the freedom of contact and the capriciousness of loose sticks and errant elbows adds to that heat. Combined with the inherent physical nature of the game, hockey seems like the perfect area for fisticuffs. It is unique, because fighting is harshly penalized in other major sports such as basketball, baseball and football. Due to its legality, there has been a debate for decades as to the allowance of it within the game.
Proponents argue the historical precedence of the act. They say you just can’t eliminate such a vital and unique part of the game because it upsets some people. There is an unwritten set of laws, or a “code” about fighting that professional players adhere to. For instance, if you commit a heinous act of unruly injustice against a player, such as a high stick to the face, a hit from behind or a post-play stoppage hit – you must answer to someone. Proponents say the freedom to take out aggressions and make perpetrators of these acts repent for their wrongdoing cleans the game of these small, dangerous acts. It’s somewhat axiomatic that if a cheap player has to answer to a tougher, more aggressive player in the form of a fight and gets tossed around, he’ll clean up his game instantly.
Opponents say that fighting is barbaric and anywhere else, they’d have legal action taken against them. They say that for the sake of younger viewers and players they should take the act out of the game for good. Fighting will give the wrong impression to the impressionable young minds of children, and they will begin to emulate some of their favorite tough guys. Sometimes, players will fight for seemingly absolutely no reason for the sake of television ratings and to get a rise out of the viewing audience. The risk of injury is another selling point from the opponents.
The best middle ground, to me personally, is already in effect. You get a five minute penalty, plus an extra two if you instigate the fight. Giving the players a way to police the game as such keeps the cheap shot induced injuries to a minimum, keeps the sticks at ice level and surprisingly, brings a new level of integrity to the sport. While it seems barbaric and unnecessary, in the long run it is conducive to a cleaner game and a more respectful playing ground. Eliminating it would be alienating a wide group of fans and cause a massive uproar against the governing body of the sport. Fights or no fights, there’s no denying that hockey is an entertaining and enthralling game to watch.