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Ethical Arguments on Fighting in the NHL, Sparked by a Minor League Hockey Death


           Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal Daily founding editor, Steve Bilafer, discusses the ethical arguments surrounding the acceptance of NHL fighting in his article “Amateur’s death brings issues of fighting in NHL to forefront.” Bilafer explains hockey is a game of both “artistry and ferocity” which separates itself from all other major leagues (NFL, MLB, and NBA) by the sport’s general acceptance of extra-curricular fighting, which carries with it a 5-minute penalty. Should activities that fall outside the scope of scoring points be accepted in the NHL? An unfortunate incident in Ontario’s Senior AAA amateur league where player Don Sanderson died after sustaining injuries during an on-ice fight has sparked debate about this ethically important issue.

            One point made by Bilafer is that the traditional fan base of hockey condones fighting and that fans view fighting as a typical, invigorating part of the sport. However, the amateur league tragedy lends creed to arguments that fighting should be banned from hockey altogether. Bilafer’s article recounts the following arguments from NBC’s NHL sportscasters Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire on January 18: McGuire argues that fighting in hockey is dangerous, can result in death, and therefore contrary to the well-being of the game. Milbury argues that fighting is fun and connected to honor in the sport, and that objectors to fighting in hockey are “flower children” who would only “pansify” the sport. Milbury later adds that an NBC Sport’s poll shows 84% of fans support fighting in hockey. Bilafer offers this central question to the arguments, “Are [fans] willing to see someone die for the right to defend their team’s honor by fighting on ice?”

            Another source included by Bilafer comes from an XM Satellite Radio interview with NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman. Commissioner Bettmen says, the issue of NHL fighting has not ever seriously been addressed, but in light of the Sanderson incident, Bettmen expects the issue to be re-evaluated in a “very deliberate way.” Bilafer explains the difficulty of getting a majority of hockey enthusiasts who enjoy fighting to change their position, but he also cautions that Bettman and NHL owners must “acknowledge what a similarly tragic incident would mean for the league.”

            The result of a NHL death due to fighting could very well spell disaster for the league. Personally, I don’t thinking fighting has any place in hockey as a sport, although I must acknowledge that when a fight breaks out, it can be exciting and entertaining. Nevertheless, I think the league should outlaw fighting and toss players who decide to fight during a hockey game. Aside from an increase to player’s personal safety, the outlaw of fighting would shield the NHL from liabilities and lawsuits when fighting does occur. According to polls, my point of view may not be with the majority, but if fans want to see fighting, they should watch boxing, not hockey.