If you like cookie cutter english papers on the history of fighting in hockey and why it shouldn’t be banned, this is for you!

On December 12, 2008, Whitby Dunlops player Don Sanderson of the Ontario Hockey Major League prepared for a hockey game as he had done many times before. During a fight against a Brantford Blast player that night, he fell helmetless onto the ice and later died of brain complications from the blow. His tragic death struck the hearts of many and sparked an age-old debate on whether or not the National Hockey League (NHL) should ban fighting. Yes, the practice within the sport is dangerous, however this is the first known death directly related to fisticuffs and ultimately should not be banned. Fighting has been a part of ice hockey since the sport’s rise in popularity in nineteenth century Canada. There are a few theories on how fighting first worked its way into the game. The most popular one is simple in the fact that when hockey was thought to be developed in the 1800s, there was a general lack of official rules and the game encouraged physical play because of one of its most fundamental objectives- trying to steal the puck from another player. Many fans of hockey agree that it is a staple to the game, and a 324 NHL player survey conducted by Sports Illustrated in its June 1st, 2009 issue said that 99.4% players asked did not want fighting banned either. There are often games without altercations, and out of the total of 1,230 games played in the 20008-2009 regular season, there were only 743 fights.
The National Hockey League was first created in 1917 and was played for five years without any formal rules even remotely regulating fighting in the game. In 1922, Rule 56 was introduced. This implemented punishment by a five minute penalty in which the player cannot be on the ice for five minutes and is sent to a bench, opposite that of his teammates, and that is rink-side called the penalty box. Although players have broken their fingers and sustained other minor injuries, that is the extent of most wounds and no one has ever died in the NHL because of a fight. Players do have to suffer repercussions if they decide to engage in a brawl and there are other penalties associated with fighting besides the basic five minutes for fighting such as the instigator penalty for the player who is deemed to be the obvious starter of an altercation and is assessed a ten minute penalty on top of the five minutes for fighting, among others.
Another issue with completely banning fighting in hockey would be missed opportunities for young players to prove themselves at a professional level. Often times, players are called up from the minor leagues to assume the roll as the team’s designated fighter, called the enforcer, because of their inexpensive salaries. They frequently do not play very many minutes since their objective is mainly to give the better players on the team time to rest and to fight, but during that small span they can establish themselves as skilled and talented players. People like Brendan Shanahan and Keith Tkachuk started their careers as enforcers and now have a combined over 1,180 NHL goals.
In addition, the presence of possible fights discourages dirty hits and dangerous stick infractions. Players are less likely to hit or trip someone with their stick if they know that besides a penalty, an enforcer could want to fight them. The same is true if a player checks some into the boards awkwardly, with intent to injure, possibly giving them a concussion or broken bones. In essence, allowing fighting in the NHL is subtraction by addition, not the other way around. Adding altercations, or permitting them to happen, is subtracting, or decreasing, the likelihood of more dirty play in other forms. Seeing a bulky, 275 pound, over 6-foot-5 guy sitting on the opposing team’s bench makes players think twice about what they do on the ice. Alan Blagman has been a zamboni driver for six years at Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Rangers. He says that he has seen more injuries caused by ill intended stick violations, than by fighting.
Many people and sports networks see hockey as a niche sport. A game that maybe does not have as many fans in the United States as football or basketball, but those who do follow it, love and are very knowledgeable about it. Maybe if the NHL eliminated fighting, it would have a better national image and profit from its new fans. However, one could actually argue that more people watch hockey in America because of its risk of a brawl. Bill Clement, a hockey analyst for Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia (previously for ESPN), and a retired NHL center said, “One aspect of the human make-up seldom changes, and it is our sense of morbid curiosity, fighting sells”.
When talking about banning fighting in the National Hockey League, there are many hats to wear, but only one head. Nobody wants to see a player get injured in a fight, but no one wants star players to be targeted or dirty play to increase. It can be made safer. In the case of Don Sanderson, his life could have been saved if players did not remove their helmets before a fight. There is always room for improvement, and this is no exception. However, the complete removal of fighting in the NHL would cause more harm than good.

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