Hockey Fighting: How It Looks to an Outsider

Scott FriedlanderContributor IMarch 16, 2011

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 16: Troy Bodie #20 of the Carolina Hurricanes and Mark Fraser #2 of the New Jersey Devils fight during the first period at the Prudential Center on February 16, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In short, it looks like professional wrestling—it’s fake.

I only became a hockey fan in the last two or three years, so I haven’t been immersed in its culture for long. But to me, fighting seems to be a part of its culture.  It is practiced as a ritual rather than being the product of true aggression.

When a hockey fight breaks out, it is not immediately stopped. To fans of most other sports, this is a very foreign concept. Why don’t they stop fights? There can only be two reasons.

The first reason is that they do not have the necessary personnel to stop the fights.  Maybe there isn’t enough security, and the refs alone can’t do much. But between the lack of effort shown by refs and the fact that refs of other sports don’t seem to have as much of a problem, it seems like personnel is not the issue. The other reason—the more likely reason—is that fights are entertaining to the fans, so they let it be. Sounds very WWE to me.

When the refs do intervene, both fighters stop all aggression. Does the appearance of the ref immediately relieve all emotion involved in a fight? That doesn’t sound very characteristic of fighting to me.

From my experience, when two people are pissed off at each other enough to want to inflict physical pain on each other, they are difficult to separate. Rage is powerful, and if hockey players were really filled with rage, a simple ref intervention wouldn’t immediately solve problems.

What causes this hockey “rage?” Blowing snow at your goalie? Any three-year-old knows that’s not nice. But any three-year-old would be punished if they responded to that with a shove and a punch.

Why do we teach this to our three-year-olds but not our 20-to-40-year old hockey players?

The reason is because it’s taught in the culture of the sport. It doesn’t really stimulate emotion in hockey players. It stimulates a reflex learned while growing up immersed in the violent culture of hockey.

Football is violent. Real wrestling is violet. But when punches are thrown in those sports, players are reprimanded immediately. As a result, fighting doesn’t happen nearly as frequently. So while football, wrestling and hockey are all violent sports, only hockey is associated with a violent culture and daily fights.

I like hockey. I think it is a fantastic game that requires real skill, and it is very entertaining to watch. However, when a fight breaks out and the crowd starts cheering, it makes me think less of the hockey fan base. Such a beautiful sport does not need a pure violence component to be entertaining.

I’m usually not an advocate for censorship. But come on, kids don’t need to see that. They idolize their stars, but football and basketball players get suspended and fined for violent, non-basketball related actions. Hockey players just have to spend a few minutes in the penalty box after being encouraged and cheered on by fans and teammates.

I have been watching hockey for a few years now and I have yet to see anyone resist a fight. Where are sportsmanship, maturity and civility in hockey? Those invaluable lessons seem to go hand-in-hand with competitiveness in other sports.  When will a hockey player do what’s right and be the bigger man?

We just don’t see that because fighting is a normal part of hockey culture. To someone who grew up unexposed to this culture, it seems fake, silly and an unnecessary form of entertainment that encourages bad values in an already entertaining sport.

If fake fighting is entertaining to you, just turn on professional wrestling. In the meantime, let’s keep hockey about scoring goals.