Hockey fighting

You know what I love about hockey?  The amazing speed, power, and skill on display as the players move up and down the ice.  And what I could really do without?  Interruptions so players can awkwardly slug at each other for a few minutes.  Judging by crowd reactions at NHL games, though, sadly, I’m in a real minority here.  When I took David to his first ever hockey game, he was actually amazed at both the fact that it was routine to simply stop the game for this nonsense, but even more so at the fan reaction.  For someone who has grown up watching only basketball and football, it really does seem crazy that this is basically condoned and celebrated.  Anyway, the good news is that at least at the junior league level, they are looking to clean up the game:

Viewing fighting as a safety issue in light of increasing concussion research, and unwilling to wait for the National Hockey League to propose changes, USA Hockey andHockey Canada are seriously considering rules that would effectively end fighting in nonprofessional leagues as soon as next season.

The rules would apply to dozens of leagues stretching from near the Arctic Circle to south Texas. Even the three top junior leagues in Canada, major fight-friendly feeder systems to the N.H.L., are considering immediate ways to make fighting a rarity, not an expectation.

“The appetite is there,” said David Branch, the president of the Canadian Hockey League, which oversees the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. “The time is certainly right to move forward.”

Hockey has long been a rare team sport that widely condones the interruption of a game so two or more players can trade punches. But for boys starting at age 16 or so, from the rough-and-tumble junior leagues to the N.H.L., fighting has usually been minimally penalized (often with five minutes in the penalty box) and thus widely practiced, condoned, even celebrated.

That may change soon. The increased recognition of the long-term dangers of brain trauma, across all sports, has forced hockey’s leaders to consider ways to reduce blows to the head.

Hooray for them.  The article includes speculation about hockey’s ability to “survive” this.  I say, if hockey cannot survive without fighting, it’ s not worth surviving.  Though, in my opinion it is a much better sport without the fighting.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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