Force and Violence in Ice Hockey

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Fighting has consistently been an admired aspect of hockey. The term enforcer has remained widely used to describe a player on a hockey team purposely there for muscle, to battle guys that are striking their teammates too hard, or making cheap shots. Although fighting has been restricted more forcefully in the duration of previous years, it still happens quite frequently. Today many ethicists, scholars, researchers and fans are debating as to whether or not this is a fundamental element of the sport considering the lengthy list of injuries and other issues triggered by fighting.

Throughout hockey history enforcers have been used as a successful measure to stop other players from getting hurt. Star players are often the target of illegal hits in hopes of taking the major threat out of the game to make winning for the opposing team easier. Many teams started implementing enforcers specifically to protect their star players. For example, Wayne Gretzky had a few teammates who followed him around the league to serve as barrier so he could focus more on playing and less on getting hurt. These enforcers hockey skills are limited but their toughness is what makes them valuable. Although these enforcers are usually the ones in fights, they are not the only ones causing fights, there is an additional type of player called an agitator, sometimes referred to as a grinder.

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According to Budekin and Morton, these types of players are put on the ice to “antagonize opponents through physical play and verbal taunting.”(329) Enforcers are often loved by the fans of that specific team, which is another reason they are kept around. Budekin and Morton are two researchers who take deeper look into the “strategy” behind fighting and how the NHL prizes these enforcers. Another scholar, Nicholas Dixon, focusses more on violent acts in hockey by breaking these types of reactions into broader, more easily defined categories. His research looks more into the cause and effect of violence. Dixon states that after a things start to get heated up on the ice that’s when a, ”goon may be sent on the ice with the express intention of attacking an opponent, especially one who has just intentionally injured a star player on the goon’s team. “(3) Through team and fan popularity, enforcers seem like they are around to stay to ensure the safety of star players.

Whether or not fighting in hockey is moral is another issue faced by those who support it. This morality question has been increasing in popularity as the number of injuries and deaths caused from fighting have gone up. Bob Probert was considered one of the best enforcers in NHL history. After his death his autopsy revealed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease linked to people with a history of brain trauma. This leads people to believe that after taking so many shots to the head over the years in his hockey career, that is what caused him to develop this disease. Even though fighting has caused a lot of injuries Paul and et al state, “Fans appear to enjoy fighting and are willing to pay to watch hockey games which include fighting.”(22) Lewinson and Paulma are two researchers searching for an answer when it comes to the morality of fighting in hockey.

According to their research, fighting for reasons like your team is losing or a wrong was committed to another player, “Fighting for these causes are not in sync with the definition of a morally correct hockey athlete…”(108) Many players will retaliate against another player for hurting one of their teammates. Dixon explains that sometimes in all sports the fighting does not always stay on the field, or the ice, “It is also important that we keep our moral bearings by considering parallel acts of retaliation in fields other than sport.”(8) Another moral question being faced is whether or not youth should be subject to this violence and be put at that risk at such a young age. Cusimano et al, are scholars who have researched this topic heavily. Cusimano et al explain, “Hostile aggression was exhibited by most of the competitive level players only as a response to a teammate being injured by an opponent.”(5) This leads t the question of whether or not hockey is causing violence at such a young age, will this lead to future violent behaviors? Another issue with minors playing hockey include their injuries, which is a problem not just in the NHL, Adams et al state, “While much public scrutiny of injury in hockey has focused on professional cases, injury in minor hockey is just as problematic.”(256)

Aggression in hockey is something of substantial debate, fans seem to favor it but sometimes these players get carried away and get hurt. Scholars ad fans are currently debating the need for fighting in all sports not just hockey. Players fear more unjust actions if not handled by other players because a lot of penalties and cheap shots go uncalled. Without it then it causes uncertainty for when the referees don’t call certain things, which upsets players and causes these retaliations.

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