When it comes to the sport of Hockey, I’ve never taken issue with how players police themselves when it comes to fighting, even the though pro-fighting crowd has become more scattered over the decades. Don’t get me wrong, the purists still love it, and wear it like a badge of honor on behalf of the sport, and there’s no debating that fighting continues to be the driving force behind the draw in smaller markets, and geographies where smaller professional leagues exist. For the most part a hockey fight comes about, when one player is either protecting himself, or someone on the team’s whose talents are centered more around scoring and play-making than dropping the gloves once every few games.
They physical part of the sport can wear a player or a team down, and so if a respective team continues to get out hit, the only solution may be to fight with the aggressor from the opposing team. It should be noted that this is something the aggressor is not only expecting but most likely welcoming and it sends a message to the opposing team that says “hey, you can’t just tee off on our players for 60 minutes, and if you do we are going to hold you accountable.” Almost all fights are a reaction to an initial action that was 100% intentional, which is when fighting makes the most sense. The players square up, face each other, and are being monitored by up to three officials who are on the same playing field or rink as the combatants who will also serve a designated penalty already pre-determined by the league. This is actually a whole lot more civil than it appears, and when judging a fight it’s important to get context before concluding on its barbaric nature.
Contrast that to baseball, where players conveniently hide under the shade of the notion that they are policing themselves. A player will pitch a baseball at another unprotected player in excess of 90mph with the intention of hitting that player. They are using the baseball as a weapon, to make a point, and hold the batter or a team accountable for actions earlier in the game or even a season. Sometimes the player getting hit, had nothing to do with the initial offense, and sometimes the initial offense was a total accident. I get it “don’t let the ball accidentally get a way and hit one of our star players, or we’ll have to dot one of your star players to remind you to be more careful”. In our twisted, misguided society I can see how this makes sense, but let’s not ever pretend like this is normal and not barbaric. We’re talking about intentions that have no malice behind them. A player can’t celebrate or show emotion out of fear having a weapon in the form of a baseball hurled at them. This is much different than squaring up, though it’s totally understandable when a player who has just been hit in the ribs with a 90 mph fastball would want to fight the guy who just hit him. At least he knows that there’s three fat umpires trailing him, that are too out of shape to break anything up.
Imagine a professional hockey player seeking retribution for an intentional or unintentional act by planting his stick in the ribs of his opponent at 90 mph? Why do we even have to have this conversation? In baseball a player will slide into another player with his cleats up while he is making a throw and totally vulnerable. Yes hockey players are asked to follow through on checks, but again, they are hitting fully equipped players, while being fully equipped themselves and their skates… well it’s they can’t leave the ice while a body check is being administered.
Still not convinced? When was the last time there was a benches clearing brawl in the NHL? I can’t remember either. This is a common occurrence in baseball, and some have gotten ugly, with coaches and even fans getting assaulted. A benches clearing brawl in the NHL would get ugly fast, but with baseball it’s par for the course, and those guys running all the way from the bullpen look ridiculous.
Let’s not get the barbaric nature of either sport confused with the dangers of playing them. With hockey there’s sticks, a 6oz frozen puck, skate blades and a solid ice surface – a lot can go wrong here. In baseball, that baseball can get away, and that bat can as well, there’s full speed collisions and way less equipment. Every sport however carries an inherent amount of risk, but let’s continue to shed light on the necessity and principle fighting in hockey hinges on relative to baseball whose barbarian like antics continue to get worse and worse, and it’s only a matter of time before something really unfortunate happens.