Retro Relapse: Fighting In Hockey

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2014.

There are a lot of busybody nobodies out there bitching about fighting in hockey. I get it though, we live in a much softer and politically correct society than generations prior.

However, in our neutered societal state, hockey is a safe haven, where men are still men (except Sidney Crosby) and we can find solace in the fact that some things never change and that if you start trouble, someone will be there to punch you in the face. It is called retaliation and it is a major part of hockey.

Now there are a lot of good arguments out there for the banishment of ending fighting in hockey and I get a lot of the points made. I understand that concussions are horrible, especially in the long-term and if a player receives multiple. I also understand that a player can have a longer career, if he isn’t getting his teeth knocked out. Additionally, hockey players would have better smiles. There are plenty of realistic negatives that can happen to a human body that gets pummeled on a regular basis.

Many of these people though, are the same people who want to ban boxing and mixed martial arts. Some of them even think that American football is too dangerous for the athletes that participate.

Here’s the thing. These athletes are adults. These adults know the risk of the sport that they play. They still decide to play these sports anyway. Sure, one could point to them being motivated by seven-to-eight figure salaries but the fact of the matter is, you have to be one of the best in the world to earn yourself that millionaire status. So what does that say about the millions of athletes who participate in these sports that never make it? They certainly aren’t getting pummeled for huge contracts.

These critics of fighting in hockey are missing the point. For the most part, these men are tough as nails and they certainly don’t need a bunch of pansies who never played the game speaking for them. They are adults that make their own adult decisions. Again, they know the risks and they still play. That is their choice. If you find hockey too dangerous, don’t play it. If you find it too “barbaric” to watch, then don’t watch it. These men don’t need nannies and would probably punch one in the face.

This isn’t some alpha male rant, this is reality. And the reality of this situation is that fighting is ingrained in hockey culture. It is a part of the sport, an important part.

Yes, you could argue that the game would be better if it were more of a skills showcase than a land of thugs but those who make that argument apparently don’t watch the sport. For the most part, each game is a showcase of elite skill and prowess on the ice. There is more finesse in the game today than there has ever been. However, there is still that fighting element that exists because in the heat of battle, it is necessary. Is it a land of thugs? Certainly not.

A hockey enforcer (or goon, as many call them) is the sport’s version of the retaliatory pitch in baseball. And like in baseball, it is employed to send a message and to protect the team’s star players. It shouldn’t be used to intentionally hurt or maim another player and for the most part, it doesn’t. Things can get out of hand, in hockey and in baseball, but in this day and age, fines, suspensions and other punishments are handed out pretty quickly when a player crosses that line. There are checks and balances in the system.

People can get hurt pretty badly in a hockey fight, as they can with a retaliatory pitch, but serious injuries aren’t as common as the sensationalist sports media would like you to assume. Players can also get hurt pretty bad just falling on the ice or hitting the boards. Are you going to remove the ice and boards too? Maybe they’ll just play field hockey on a field made out of pillows, sticks made out of pool noodles and a lemon as a puck.

This growing anti-fighting coalition wants to constantly point out how barbaric humans are, especially men. It shares and promotes similar ideas that have been espoused by those embracing extreme feminism. You know, those people out there who see manliness as a sort of primal Neanderthalism that has no place in our prissy modern world.

What this faulty idealism fails to realize and accept is that men (and all humans, actually) need to work out their aggression and angst in a healthy way. When the hunter-gatherer way of life ended, men needed new ways to express their manliness and feel bad ass. Thus came sports, which weren’t just games but physical competitions against one another to see who was the best and the king of the tribe.

Many can point to ancient gladiatorial sports and their bloodshed but we have evolved way passed that. Besides, men were usually forced to fight each other and didn’t participate in those gladiator games voluntarily. Many were slaves or captured enemies forcibly thrown to the lions for the entertainment of their captors.

Hockey is not that same sort of barbarism and shouldn’t be compared to it. Yet that is one of the most common arguments, as those criticizing the sport’s violence like to paint a picture of men, who they perceive as victims of an outdated barbaric system, being sacrificed for the entertainment of the savage-hearted spectator. When you really look at this argument, it is bullshit.

Unfortunately, we live in a very reactionary world and if a player were to get hit and killed, whether from a punch or a hard smack to the ice or the boards, the nanny police will come out in full force, the media will provide them their soapbox and the sport will probably be forced to ban fighting. While I hope this never happens and I never want to see a player get hurt, especially killed, I could see this happening.

In the end, banning fighting in hockey would kill the spirit of the sport and probably cause more problems on the ice than what people perceive there to be now. There is a reason for an enforcer and retaliation. Without it, you open the door to greater danger and a dirtier game.

More of this, please: