Media provokes fight against fighting in hockey

Kaitlin Santanna

One recent Tuesday evening, I was sitting in my living room cheering on my favorite NHL team. A friend of mine who likes sports but is unfamiliar with hockey suddenly said, “Hockey is so violent. I can’t watch it.” As a huge champion of the sport this was obviously troubling to my ears, so I proceeded to ask her why she felt that way. Her response was one that many non-followers hold, that hockey is a sport filled with goons that run around on skates and beat each other to a pulp for fun.

Any hockey follower knows this reaction from non-fans well. Even though it is expected it is not easy to accept. These sentiments usually bring the fan to a state of dismay, for they see their sport as a unique combination of strength, skill and finesse, all carried out upon a sheet of ice.

In most cases, the fighting brings the non-follower to believe that hockey is vicious. That this violent activity is legal, and many times encouraged, often baffles non-fans because hockey is the only professional sport of the “big four” in which fighting officially appears. Unfortunately for hockey, the only mainstream broadcasting that the sport receives focuses on the most brutal and controversial blemishes of the game. For example, ESPN rarely discusses the most skilled players in the game or shows replays of mind-boggling goals or saves. Instead, it focuses its attention on the charades of the likes of Sean Avery or major injuries caused during fighting. If one pays attention, however, it is clear that these incidents are few and far between. It is simply that the major sports network that most Americans tune into has decided to take a selective approach to the world of hockey, scaring away many potential viewers before they have the chance to fall in love with the sport.

To deny that fighting in hockey is dangerous and causes major injuries would be a fallacy. In fact, two recent incidents have caused major discussions of fighting’s place in the sport. On Jan. 20, 21-year-old Don Sanderson passed away after hitting his head on the ice during a fight. Sanderson played for the senior-league Whitby Dunlops at the time. Another frightening incident occurred just days later right in Villanova’s vicinity. On Jan. 23, Garrett Klotz, a forward for the Flyer’s minor league affiliate Philadelphia Phantoms, suffered seizures following a fight. Klotz made a full recovery and is expected to return to play with the Phantoms.

Although Klotz’s occasion drew nation-wide media exposure, he was cited saying that he does not want to be the reason why fighting is eliminated from the game.

“I know the risks that I’m taking when I go out there and I’m willing to take that risk,” Klotz told TSN reporters. “It’s not too often that this happens.”

The Sanderson tragedy has sparked an onslaught of discussions on rules about fighting and at which levels it should be permitted. Those close to the athlete suggest that Sanderson himself respected the art of fighting and would not want it done away with, but suggest that a discussion is necessary to work out the finer points of the fight. The National Hockey League concurred, announcing that a discussion on all aspects of fighting is on the agenda for its annual meeting of general managers next month.

In the meantime, TSN, Canada’s equivalent to ESPN, did their own poll among NHL general managers to gage their opinions on fisticuffs in hockey. When asked if any player who engages in a fight should receive a “stiffer punishment” than the current five-minute penalty, only two-of-18 respondents answered yes. Perhaps even more interesting is that of those two, neither said that the player should be ejected from the game. TSN then conducted a poll for Canadian fans, and their responses also supported the presence of fighting. The survey reported that only 30 percent of people who follow the NHL closely say the league should eliminate fighting from the game.

In the wake of recent fighting scares, how can those closest to the game still promote fighting in professional hockey? The answer comes in two words – the Code. The Code is an unwritten set of rules that the sport’s enforcers follow. It follows the ideals of good sportsmanship, championing a clean fight and the elimination of cheap shots or seriously harming your opponent.

The Code suggests that there is an art in fighting and ensures that fisticuffs are used for their appropriate purpose, to protect the game’s smaller, more skilled players.

While many outsiders think that fighting gives hockey its brutality, it actually ensures order and fair play. Klotz, an enforcer himself, also speaks to this sentiment.

“It’s part of the game and it always has been part of the game,” Klotz told TSN. “It keeps things on an even basis out there [and keeps] guys from taking cheap shots and running around out there being stupid.”

Although fighting may seem to cause more harm than good, if one takes a closer look, they see the skill is essential to not only the character, but also the integrity, of the game. The skilled players that draw thousands of fans to arenas across North America would not be able to operate at their highest caliber without enforcers on the ice. Whatever the future holds for fighting in hockey, it is clear that a majority of those close to the sport believe it has a viable and important place in the game.


Kaitlin Santanna is a senior mathetmatics and communication major from Hummelstown, Pa. She can be reached at [email protected].