Let me say first off that I like fighting in the NHL. As most if not all of you do, I will yell at the radio or TV when at home, cheering for whatever Sabre has dropped the gloves to pummel his fellow combatant. If I’m at the game I will jump out of my seat so fast, you’d think someone had just yelled “hey Howard, they’re giving out free ice cream at the concession stands.”
But it seems the NHL at some point will have to decide whether or not they have reached the time where fighting should be banned. With so much more focus on head injuries and their long term health ramifications, I feel like we are moving toward a yes or no vote scenario unfolding for the Board of Governors.
Not that I pay attention to what Ralph Nader says but the political activist recently posted an open letter at his web site to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman calling for an immediate ban of fighting and outlawing all blows to the head. This past week during ESPN’s PTI show with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, one of my favorite sports TV shows, both men crucified the NHL for a fight breaking out just two seconds into a game between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. They suggested suspensions for all of the players involved and fines of $250,000 for both teams. My jaw dropped as I yelled at the screen “what are you guys crazy?”
As the puck hit the ice to start the game, New Jersey’s Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen dropped the gloves and squared off with the Rangers’ Michael Rupp and Brandon Prust. For Rupp and Janssen they’re getting faster at this. In a game back on December 20th it took the two pugilists a whole three seconds to duke it out.
Staged fights, spontaneous fights, live up to the code fights, it really doesn’t matter because the league will take more criticism for being hypocrites. As the argument goes, how can a league say it’s looking out for the best interests of its players when it comes to head injuries and advocate safer play when they let guys stand toe to toe and attempt to punch each other’s lights out?
While watching the series of fights between the Sabres and Boston Bruins earlier this week, I actually thought about how the game is perceived because it allows fighting. The game was shown nationally on NBC Sportsnet and I was wondering whether a casual sports fan watching the game would think this league is a joke.
So here’s what I think. As I said, I would rather not see a ban on fighting but if it comes to that, I will not be one to fight against it tooth and nail. I will still love watching NHL games even if I know there is no possibility of a fight. I’ve been watching the NHL for going on 40 years now (man I’m old) and I’ve seen hundreds of great games over those years where there wasn’t a single scrap. If it was in the best interests of the NHL to ban fighting, so be it. The league and its fan base will survive. I promise I’ll only cry for a few minutes if/when that day does come.