From time to time, hockey has a bad week. This week was one of those weeks.
Where to begin?
A unfortunate hit left a Swiss League player paralyzed. Canada lost a musical icon who was loved by hockey fans in this country. A player nearly lost his eye because he chose not to wear a visor. Another player suffered a concussion in a pointless fight just 26 seconds into a game.
Hockey is a violent and dangerous sport. We’ve known this for quite some time. What we’ve lacked, however, is the will among the game’s gatekeepers to make it as safe as possible for the players. But now, we’re starting to see fans develop an appetite for the elimination of fighting. A Globe and Mail survey finds 78 per cent of Canadians favour banning fighting at the junior level. That’s the exact percentage of the game’s fans who’d like to see fighting outlawed in junior. Perhaps surprisingly, two-thirds of hockey fans are OK with banning fighting at the professional level. Wow, who knew?
It’s unclear what a ban on fighting would look like. Technically, fighting is banned right now. You receive a five-minute penalty for it, just as you get two minutes for hooking, holding or tripping. Presumably, those who would like to see fighting banned forever favour stricter punishments, such as game misconducts and suspensions for dropping the gloves. Perhaps if you fight too often you should be kicked out of the league. For the anti-fighting types, it’s all about changing the culture of the game – making pariahs of the dancing bears.
Unfortunately, there isn’t the collective will to address fighting in a meaningful way among NHL owners and general managers. This is, after all, the group that helped install Brendan Shanahan as director of player safety, and before him it was Colin Campbell who was in charge of on-ice discipline. Both men were more than willing to drop the gloves during the careers. Campbell, in particular, has been quick to defend fighting, going so far as to suggest the NHL is selling hate. And believe me, it is.
If there’s a notable tilt, you can bet it will show up on the main page. It’s one thing to sheepishly accept fighting as part of the game, it’s another thing to brazenly promote two men punching each other with their bare knuckles.
Having the discussion to ban fighting at the NHL level is well worth having. But unfortunately, those who make the decisions just aren’t listening.