I’m an old-school hockey purist. I love hard fought battles along the boards. I love tough players who lay thunderous body checks and sell out to block shots. I even love to see a spirited bout between two willing combatants, going blow for blow. However, fighting needs to be taken out of the NHL.
Stifling the Game’s Growth
While there are a number of reasons against fighting — including player safety concerns, the game evolving beyond it and it simply being viewed as barbaric — the reason why it needs to be eradicated is because it’s stifling the growth of the game, specifically the development of the NHL. The NHL has and will continue to have its devout niche following, which for the most part, absolutely adores seeing supercharged fisticuffs. This same admiration for violence doesn’t carry over to the general public though, or even the casual fan (outside of a few individuals on the fringe). Fighting doesn’t only hinder the growth of hockey, it goes as far as alienating individuals from the game.
The fighting-in-hockey debate has once again resurfaced due to the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs brawl that recently took place. Unfortunately, moments such as this one are the only time the NHL gets showcased on a national level in the United States. This certainly doesn’t help the image of the game, and actually reduces it to a laughable sideshow at best. While what went on at the Air Canada Center was entertaining for some, it makes the NHL look bush league to many others, reducing all of its credibility to ash.
How many times have your non-hockey friends referred to hockey players as “animals” or “barbarians”? Some of you have probably even seen the frightened turn away and cover there face in horror. How do you sell a protective mother on the game of hockey to the point where she’d feel comfortable enough to let her young children watch the game as a weekend family outing, never mind convincing her to allow her kids to participate?
A Sport Misunderstood
Showcasing world-class, highly skilled athletes, hockey is one of the most difficult sports to play on the face of the earth. Too bad a number of consumers will never be able to look past the violence to see the true essence of the game. There’s no other sport that demands such a unique blend of toughness, endurance, speed and quickness, hand-eye coordination and mental fortitude all the while requiring its athletes to perform on a quarter-inch thick razor blade. Despite these intricacies, these uber-talented individuals will never be considered anything more than stick-swinging, fist-throwing neanderthals, if the NHL refuses to clean up its game.
Outside of North America, fighting is all but nonexistent in the professional ranks of hockey, and hardly missed. European hockey fans are actually someone of the most passionate and exuberant followers you will find. Dare I say, they would even rival most North American fans. The games are just as exciting and hard fought as NHL games, all the while being played without the most talented players. If fighting was removed from the NHL, it would only accentuate the caliber and skill of the league and its athletes.
Again, I love seeing a spirited tilt as much as anyone, but what I love even more is seeing the game of hockey grow. If the NHL continues to permit fighting, it’ll continue to turn away potential hockey fans and delegitimize itself. The hardcore fanbase — rain or shine — will always be there, as the last two lockouts have proved. The NHL needs to focus on other consumer segments to nurture its brand, and ultimately continue the development and reach of hockey. It can take a giant step in the right direction by prohibiting fighting.