Is fighting ethical in a game of hockey? On one hand, it is a tradition in hockey and argued by some as an important part of the game. On the other hand, it can be viewed as a savage aspect of the game that has no business being a part of hockey. Other than sports like wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts, whose inherent aspect of the sport is fighting, no other professional sports would allow two players to fight without there being significant consequences. Even in a violent sport, such as football, if two players started fighting they would both be given long suspensions. So why is it that even today, with so much concern for player well being, does the NHL still allow fighting?
This video shows the brutality and risk associated with fighting in hockey. The main issue I have with fighting is that it greatly increases the risk of injury in a hockey game. Many athletes are already injured in hockey as is, why add another aspect that contributes to injuries in the league? Not only is there the inherent risk associated with fighting, but there is also the risk of players falling onto the ice and hitting their heads (as seen in the above video). In a sport where there are already several physical risk factors, I believe that there is no reason to add the additional risk associated with fighting.
As a kid growing up watching hockey I would often get excited about a pending fight when attending a hockey game. Two players drop their gloves and the crowd erupts cheering for their own player as he tries to beat the other man, in an effort to swing momentum into his team’s favour. The fact of the matter is a fight in hockey can get the crowd, and even the players, into the game. This fight, which included the goalies of each respective team, was probably the highlight of the night for most fans, even though it did not have an actual effect on the game. Why is it that so many fans attend a hockey game in the hopes of seeing a fight breakout? Why not just attend a mixed martial arts match where you can watch two people fight each other? It feels strange to me that some people would prefer to see a bench-clearing brawl than a quality game of hockey, when attending a game of hockey.
If fighting was removed from the league would less fans decide to spend their hard earned money on a hockey game? I like to believe that if fighting was removed just as many fans would attend the games. The only difference would be that more fans, who enjoy the actual game of hockey, regardless of the fighting, would be the ones who attend the games. Hockey in itself has enough inherent aggression and violence to satisfy the fans seeking this kind of thrill. In fact, if fighting was removed from hockey, I believe that new fans, ones who shied away previously due to the fighting, would start watching the sport.
In hockey, there are specific players who are placed on a team solely because they are good fighters. However, if fighting was illegal in the NHL, these players would lose their jobs, as many of them are not skilled enough to play in a league without fighting. The time that these players occupy on the ice could therefore be allotted to players who are more adept at the sport. If these players were removed, the average skill level would increase in the league, thus providing a better quality game.
Many of the fights are started when two players, on opposing teams, verbally agree to fight each other. These fights do not stem from aggression but rather from two players deciding to punch each other in order to put a show on for the fans. According to Jim Parry, in his chapter about violence and aggression in sports, everyone has a certain assertiveness that is a part of our human nature. This drives us to “maintain or defend a cause”. This can be illustrated in hockey fights, as players often start fights in order to defend another one of their teammates. Parry also claims that if the rules of a sport allow violence to be legal, then it is ethically permissible. I have trouble accepting that, as I believe that fighting should not be legal in hockey, which would therefore make it unethical.
Parry also discusses both the concepts of recklessness and negligence in his discussion of violence in sports. I believe both these factors can be used to show that fighting in hockey should not be ethically permissible. He defines reckless challenge as “those whose intent may be to gain advantage, but whose means are taken in the knowledge of risk or foresight of probable injury”. This to me perfectly describes a fight within hockey. Many argue that fighting is used to leverage a better position within the game, however this tactic is used with the knowledge that you are trying to punch and therefore harm another person. Parry defines negligent challenge as “those undertaken without appropriate due care for others”. This can be seen within the context of hockey fights as during a single fight there is little to no concern for the opponent’s well being. The fact that fighting in hockey shows both negligent and reckless challenges, whilst providing little benefit to the game, helps to further prove why I think fighting is unethical.
With player safety being a growing concern in all sports, I find it hard to believe that there is still a debate on fighting in hockey. The bottom line for me is that fighting in hockey is truly unnecessary and only takes away from the natural beauty of the game. Even though hockey is an inherently brutal sport, I believe that there is no need for the increased violence and risk for players.