Darcy Hordichuk of the Vancouver Canucks and Derek Boogaard of the Minnesota Wild exchange punches. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
The cover story in an upcoming issue of The Hockey News will focus on the fighting issue, re-examining its place in the wake of the Don Sanderson tragedy through the eyes of different people connected to the game.
We didn’t undertake the mission lightly. Over the years, the publication has been tagged with an “anti-fighting” label and any time we broach the subject, we hear about it – from readers and other members of the media. And despite what we firmly believe is fair and balanced coverage, we fully expect vitriol this time, too. Reputations can be awfully difficult to shake.
The fact of the matter is, the editors and writers at The Hockey News have as many divergent opinions about fisticuffs as our audience. Some love all tussles, some believe it has a place in the game, some only condone the spontaneous bouts between legitimate players, some are undecided and some abhor it.
Still, even knowing a segment of the readership will lump everyone together, we felt an obligation and a responsibility to explore the subject, using a cross-section of the hockey community as the conduit.
Simply put, it felt like the right thing to do after a young life had been lost.
From a personal perspective, I was swayed by the Sanderson tragedy. Previously, I was on the fence, not a big fan of fisticuffs, but willing to take a live-and-let-live approach. If two grown men wanted to beat the tar out of one another, and thousands wanted to see it, who was I to spew moral indignation?
Besides, there is a part of me, on occasion, that seeks vengeance when watching sports. The deeper the team allegiance, the larger the hate-on we have for rivals. And when there’s a particular pest or arrogant sun-of-a-gun stepping on my feelings with his antics, my dark side wouldn’t mind seeing him take a haymaker to the chops.
That typically fades quickly and the sane me takes over. Society has deemed punching another human unacceptable. Heck, hockey has, too. Players receive five-minute majors for striking one another with their fists. It’s one of the stiffest penalties on the books.
Clearly, though, it’s not much of a deterrent, not for the enforcers.
The Sanderson tragedy raised the stakes. Our worst fears were realized. His death was accidental, but easily avoidable. All fights have intent-to-injure as their premise and when you try to hurt someone, grave consequences are a possibility.
Hockey would not suffer if measures were taken to seriously curb fighting (it may be impossible to totally eradicate it). You may need to introduce complimentary rules to eliminate liberty-taking, but if the NFL – the most popular league on our continent – can do it, surely the NHL could follow suit with a no-nonsense policy. It’s time.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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