In Ancient Rome, upwards of 50,000 people would fill the Colosseum to watch men battle condemned criminals and wild beasts. But like many things in life, sports have become far more civilized. Today’s Colosseums have names like Saddledome. Gladiators are no longer slaves. Now they’re multi-millionaire celebrities.
But regardless of whether people are cheering on a gladiator or a hockey goon, our demand for thrilling fights has remained much the same.
Fighting has always been a part of hockey. There was a time when our great Canadian heroes took to the ice without helmets or body armour, and got into scraps far more brutal than what we are used to seeing today.
Recently, however, the NHL has been tweaking its rules, to reduce the number of fights. In the 1980s, there was an average of one per game. By 2010, that number was almost cut in half.
The push to reduce on-ice violence in the ’90s was largely a concerted effort on the part of soccer moms, whose post-Cold War agenda was to turn Western civilization into a politically correct snorefest. Their opening move: Make sure children are never exposed to sex, profanity or violence in entertainment, lest they form the horrifying impression that those things can be enjoyable.
Following the recent suicides of hockey stars Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard, coupled with mounting medical evidence about the long-term effects of repeated concussions, more attention is being focused on eliminating head injuries from hockey.
“I’m going to show you the new NHL,” Don Cherry proclaimed last Thursday, as he showed a series of plays in which players were too timid to make solid hits. “I’d hate to be paying 175 bucks to watch this thing.”
Indeed, the NHL has been trying to clamp down on head shots, but some (including ex-NHL enforcer Jim Thomson) want fighting outright eliminated.
Mr. Cherry said Mr. Thomson and his ilk were trying to take “advantage” of the recent spate of suicides to make their “point on fighting.” “They’re a bunch of pukes that fought before,” said Mr. Cherry, who pointed out that there’s only been eight NHL players who have taken their lives since 1999, and none of them were fighters.
Eight is a small number considering suicides are a leading cause of death. In terms of occupational hazards, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control indicates that, between 1984 and 1998, 6,626 writers died of self-inflicted injuries. So, apparently, my job is riskier than that of a professional hockey player – and we cut down on fighting in the newsroom years ago.
There is little justification for eliminating fighting from hockey, except for those who wish to see the sport emasculated even further. We’ve already ceded the ground on mandatory helmets and participation trophies for every kid that plays. Let’s at least let the professionals play the game as it was meant to be — tough, passionate and gritty.
Fighting is a big part of that passion, and it’s what makes hockey great. Keeping it in the game is certainly something worth fighting for.
Photograph courtesy Burns!/flickr