By Rob Ficiur
On October 1, 2013 a major controversy rang through the NHL, when Montreal Canadiens forward George Parros was knocked out during a fight. Once again “Should fighting be banned in the NHL?” was the question of the week. The outcry lasted less than a full week before there was another news story for hockey fans and sports casters to talk about. Controversy resurfaced again in December when Parros got his second concussion of the season in another fight. The fighting ban idea was talked about by sports casters for a day or two and then on to the next story.
Since Parros’ October concussion / fight I have been meaning to write this article. Three months into the season the outcry followed by weeks of silence on the issue has given perspective on whether the NHL should ban fighting.
YES – No other team sport in North America allows fighting during a game. In all these sports and in European and Olympic hockey, a fight is an automatic game misconduct. If all the other sports can ban fighting, why would the NHL allow it? Fans are there to watch the skill not the fist fights.
NO – Fighting has always been part of hockey. Many long time hockey people claim that fighting gives players a way to vent and take out their aggression in a fast paced sport. These long time NHL people say there is an unwritten code where a fight can settle up for an uncalled play. I never played in the NHL, so those that did play thirty years ago must know what is best…right?
YES – There is no fighting in the NHL playoffs, even though the rules allow it. Why? That is simple; teams do not want the added penalties when the games are so important. If their opponent does not dress a fighter, then your team does not have to dress a fighter. If fighting is needed to deal with stress of the game and get even with your opponent, you would think that fighting would be more needed when you are playing the same team four or more games in a row. Since teams don’t need fighting in post season, why allow it for the regular season?
NO– Players are adults. They can choose to fight or not. This is partially true. However players like George Parros 461 games played and only eighteen goals, know they are in the league for their fighting and nothing else. On January 24, 1982 LA Kings winger Paul Mulvey refused to go on the ice and start a bench clearing brawl. Kings coach Don Perry was suspended for 15 games for ordering a player to fight. Mulvey never played another NHL game. His multi-million dollar law suit indicated he was black listed by other teams for not being willing to fight. So yes, the players are adults. For the goons, they know that if they want the job they have to fight. Their choice is limited.
YES – Where is the NHL Players Association? Are they not supposed to look after the long term health and well-being of their players? As more and more retired fighters describe the long term side effects of too many punches to the head, the players association take a stand to that will help the players long term health and safety…right?
NO – When the NHL mandated that all new players must wear visors, the end of fighting began. Punching someone in the visor is going to hurt more than punching someone in the nose. Penalizing players for taking off their helmets is also a penalty, so no one will do that. Unless of course both players take off their helmets then the penalties will be off setting.
No – Back on October 1, when George Parros got his concussion, the fight was over, and as Parros was shakily skating away from the scene he tripped over a stray stick on the ground. The league should be getting rid of sticks not fighting if they want to prevent the October concussion.
The Final Answer is Yes – All the previous arguments will not matter one bit when the NHL decides to ban fighting. Insurance and liability issues will make the changes that league officials won’t. One day soon, (within the next two years is my guess) some insurance company or a fighting lawsuit will open the NHL to liability issues they cannot afford. Liability issues spur policy changes.
In April 2002, fourteen year old Britannie Cecil was killed by a puck that deflected into the stands in Columbus. By June the NHL mandated that all arenas had to have safety netting to protect fans. Prior to the Columbus tragedy, the league did not think that safety netting was necessary ; it would take away from the fan’s experience. Tragedy (and a million dollar settlement) made the NHL move fast. Tragedy and the courts will lead the league to move quicker to ban fighting than all the health debates.