The Third Rule Of Fight Club

Better late than later, Vinny’s coda to his trilogy on the history of fighting in hockey. This was done as part of his masters program in history and it shows – it’s thorough, well-researched and if you know Vinny, rather opinionated. Drop the mitts and dance!

Offseason of Hurt begets the internalization of External Criticism

“On my wrist, I sport a reminder of this summer. The simple red wristband says ‘Love for Lokomotiv’ which is a tribute to the Russian plane crash which killed an entire hockey team there, comprised almost exclusively of former or future NHLers.

It stands to reason that would make this the darkest offseason in the history of this game I’ve had a love affair with since I was 12. Unfortunately, it was already the worst offseason the NHL had ever endured before that ill fated flight.

Derek Boogaard

On the eve of the NHL Draft, Rangers Enforcer Derek Boogaard was found dead, victim of a mix of prescription drugs and alcohol. Later in the offseason, noted tough guys Rick Rypien and Wade Belak would both be found dead of similar circumstances.

The offseason prior, Bob Probert, one of the toughest hombres ever to put on skates, a mythical retired enforcer for the Red Wings, passed away, and posthumously, much of the news that came out of his autopsy was about a heartbreaking picture of an addled brain from repeated concussions over the years.

None of this news occurs in a vacuum, and in the recent months, the NFL and professional wrestling have endured numerous deaths of alums of those professions, stemming at least in part from concussions due to the physicality of their endeavors. How long could the NHL ignore the mounting pressure? Well, as most big companies do, they showed a staggering ability to shrug off external criticism. After all, the fans never booed at the start of a fight, right? The funny thing about external criticism is eventually it gives way to internal discussion and whistle-blowing.

Jim Thompson

Enter Jim Thompson, Chris Nilan, Stu Grimson and Georges Laraque, all of whom threw down dozens of times in defense of their teammates. Thompson, the pinnacle of his career being 4th line enforcer for the enforcers, had lead a troubled road since leaving the game. “I went through periods of depression,” he said. “I’m a recovering alcoholic.

I believe a lot of my demons, if you will, came from hockey ending and the head blows and certain things that I wasn’t aware of.”  Reading that quote in the context of this summer is gut wrenching. Thompson is now a devout anti fighting advocate.

Stu Grisom

Laraque would use his new soapbox to champion equipment changes and a better league support program for the affected. Grimson was just candid about what he’s gone through and how his life is now. These men all spoke out in light of recent events, and were not immune to the vitriolic reaction which has framed both sides of this debate for the last 25 or so years.

The old guard, as best represented by Don Cherry, venerable old Bruins coach and perhaps the most recognizable hockey voice in Canada, roared back: “I hate to say this when the kids are listening — with Georges Laraque said about … but the bunch of pukes that fought before: Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson. ‘Oh, they reason that they’re drinking drugs and alcoholic because they fight.’ You turncoats. You hypocrites. It’s one thing I’m not, it’s a hypocrite. You guys … you were fighters and now you don’t want guys that make the same living you did.” This is where we are at. Fighters are saying we need change. And old voices, of generations gone by, like Mike Milbury and Don Cherry are vilifying the men who have paid the price with their blood.

Full disclosure: I love Don Cherry. The man IS hockey. He’s a hero of mine. He couldn’t be more wrong here, however. Cherry is a throwback, he is also something of a war profiteer, selling his ‘ROCK’EM SOCK’EM’ video series for years on hockey’s biggest hits and most intense brawls. The league has lost some of its sons, there are internal voices clamoring for change in chorus with the external ones and just as many voices telling those voices to ‘shut up’. With all these cards on the table, where do we go from here?

Knockout Punch

Now that the debate has been framed and the issues have been made clear, I can finally state where I come at this: Not as someone who hates hockey, who wants to change it drastically to suit corporate sponsors, who thinks it “needs to do X to capture a more mainstream audience”, or any of that. I come at it as someone who loves it, cherishes it, considers it the greatest sport in the world, and reveres the game and it’s players. I would love nothing more than to continue to write passionately about this game until I die. Even though I am as devout a fan as you’ll find, my rose tinted visor has allowed me to see some things that need to change. Thankfully, some of them already have.

These are the recommendations I’ve come to, thanks to the large volume of sources you’ll see in the bibliography:

• The players need to have more faith in the system of supplemental discipline. The system needs to reward that faith by properly handling incidents that could lead to a series of escalating incidents like what went down between the Islanders and Penguins last year.

• There needs to be more thought in terms of protecting the player on the business end of equipment. For too long, equipment manufacturers have sought to disconnect their clients from the game by making them immune to the contact of their own hits, it’s why an elbow pad to the chops feels like being cracked in the face with a bag of concrete. If players feel the repercussions of their cheapshot, they are less likely to deliver it, which means there’s less to retaliate to.

• Bench the instigator Rule, it’s outlived it’s usefulness. If two players both want to shake the game up with a fight that freely occurs during the game, let them. Trying to dissuade them just leads to more fights. Let the boys blow it out of their system and call it a day. Bottling it up leads to it boiling over.

• The elimination of the enforcer is occurring naturally, it doesn’t need to be mandated. Teams cannot carry a player who cannot skate anymore in today’s NHL. If one were to legislate it, dropping teams to 17 skaters dressed (19 including goalies) would solve it right quick, but I honestly don’t believe it’s necessary.

• After their careers, they need better support. This was one of the fundamental issues that drove the NFL and NFLPA into such a bitter war over their last work stoppage. The leagues owe it to their players who are in essence their product, to provide them with benefits and counseling after their playing days.

• A fighting ban is ridiculous and impractical. Tensions will always boil over in a game that is so fast, so physical, and so emotional. What one can do, is make it a ten minute major instead of a five, ensuring the player’s chance to get into another fracas is severely curtailed. There’s nothing that can change the momentum of a game, a series, or even a season like a fight. It’s a declaration, a call to arms, and a warning all in one.

However, it’s also essentially unarmed assault on a unforgiving surface in full view of thousands of witnesses that has very real consequences on the combatants far after the horn sounds. For all of these reasons, it has to remain part of the game, but a tightly controlled, properly supervised facet, the players are owed that much.”

And you owe Vinny a follow on twitter: @RoseTintedVisor

Bibliography

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About RoseTintedVisor

RoseTintedVisor ( thats @RoseTintedVisor on Twitter for the newbs) is the nom de plume of moi, Vinny Piccolo. Park Ranger/ Grad Student (History) by day, token gay hockey player & blogger (devotee of the NYI) by night. In my spare time, I hit the ice on LI as a grinder and general irritant with a penchant for crosschecks and trashtalk. I also fancy comic books, wrestling, history, political discussion, particularly LGBT & Environmental Issues . Addtl interests include Miami Dolphins Football, Atlanta Braves Baseball, & The Florida Panthers.
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8 Responses to The Third Rule Of Fight Club

  1. @LibrosOverHos says:

    Love it. Excellent. Except I’d go so far as to support booting someone from the whole game for fighting. Don’t give them the chance to continue the fight later in the game.

    I especially agree with providing support after their careers are over. Too often, it’s out of sight, out of mind. But the red flags aren’t always apparent early on. And even when they are, like with Rypien last year, they’re misunderstood.

    I’m a Kings fan, and I love my enforcers Westgarth and Clifford, but I know their days are numbered. They have to develop skills besides fisticuffs to stay viable in the game.

  2. Even though I hate America, I did love this even if it didn’t end with Eric Lindros, Crosby and Pronger all holding hands and drinking a Coke while loving the world.

    I really like the support idea (and if anyone is reading, I have job history in being a persona assistant!!!) just from reading what Bob Probert was doing post-career.

  3. Adam says:

    I think that it’s hard for players, still, to have faith in supplemental discipline when they continue to view it as being inconsistent and, at worst, arbitrary. I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, and I think that the league is ironing things out and will hopefully reach a place that’s agreed-upon by most parties. In the meantime, though, that might be a pain point.

    You and I have discussed this to some extent, but I can’t help but think that fighting is one of the last remaining vestiges of the mentality that especially colors North American hockey as being something manly or macho. To me, it would seem logical that if we’re able to agree that each fight is, as you put it, unarmed assault, its place in the game would naturally be questioned. If we’re going to rail against headshots in a concentrated and systematic way, I don’t see how we can persist in making a glaring exception for a fight, in which each punch thrown is an intentional headshot, despite whatever honorable motives might be behind it (and there truly are).

    People are going to resist change, especially when you call into question something they truly enjoy or consider to be an ‘essential’ part of something. But I think fighting is going to have to eventually go the way of the helmet-less player. The more we learn about brain injuries, the more we understand the consequences of rallying fisticuffs, the less we can continue to champion a fight. I don’t think you can look at the evidence and say that fighting can’t be directly linked to some serious off-ice issues, be they physical or emotional; your articles certainly would support such a link. It would seem foolish to ignore them and find ways to keep fighting in the game when, really, phasing it out is really the best solution here. Again, I realize that people will do whatever they can to keep it in the game because of whatever meaning they attach to it, but I have to hope that scientific evidence and reason will prevail over emotional attachments to an activity that, frankly, is already losing some steam.

    I love hockey. You might tell me I don’t love the NHL, that I don’t love hockey enough, that I’m weak, or whatever else. I realize that my opinion on the matter might be discarded because I, myself, am more a skill player and proponent of seeing hockey for the display of talent that’s involved during the run of play rather than when the gloves are dropped.

    But the game changes. The game has changed before, and it’s going to continue to do so. And while there will be some truly epic outrage and mourning when fighting is ultimately removed from hockey, we’ll get over it and adapt.

  4. Fighting will never truly be removed from hockey. It may lessen, certainly, but it will never go away entirely.

    • Adam says:

      I mean, it’s certainly possible that it isn’t going to be entirely removed. I have a hunch you’re right on that, actually, despite what I think might be the best solution overall.

      I just have to wonder how long we’ll kind of see this glaring evidence, which continues to mount and develop as the stigma associated with being, you know, a human being slowly erodes, and say, “Ehhh, okay, we know this is the consequence of fighting, but we’ll just make it happen less often,” rather than saying, “Alright, game over.”

      I think we also need to stop believing in the ridiculous ‘boys will be boys’ attitude that we’ve allowed to persist both on and off the rink. I refuse to believe that grown men can’t help themselves and learn to keep their gloves on and channel their anger, frustration, or inspiration in other ways that don’t involve delivering an uppercut to another person’s chin. It’s a lot like saying that men just can’t help themselves from sexually harassing or raping a woman because the skirt she was wearing was so short or because she was just SO BEAUTIFUL. My goal here isn’t to say that fighting in a damn hockey game is the equivalent of rape, but I think it helps illustrate that the outdated assumption that boys will, in fact, be ‘boys’ is pretty absurd. While I think most people would now agree that a man can, in fact, “help himself” from touching a woman without her consent (unless you’re in Italy, where just a few years ago they finally overturned a ruling that it can’t be rape if the woman’s wearing tight jeans), we seem to still think they can’t help themselves when it comes to punching the shit out of another man during a hockey game. And that’s just plain false.

  5. Fighting causes less concussions than open ice bodychecking. The numbers back me up on that. Are we to ban hitting too? A good clean fight isn’t a detriment to the game, it’s an asset.

  6. Adam says:

    Nah, I don’t think we’re talking about banning hitting here; I’m not suggesting that, and clean body checks (emphasis on body) are rarely the culprits. And I don’t intend to imply that this should turn into a game of which activity causes more concussions, either, as a measuring stick, because I don’t really think that’s a very productive argument. If anything, I think it’s erasing valuable nuance from the discussion.

    While open-ice hits (especially and primarily those that are delivered to the head) are, to our knowledge, far more likely to result in concussions, I think it’s a pretty lame argument in favor of keeping fighting in the game. Sure, most individual punches aren’t causing concussions, but the sheer number of them is what adds up. It’s not always a knockout punch doing the damage; each successive hit to the head is what accumulates, and that result is what’s scary because it’s not something that’s always immediately seen or understood. I don’t think anyone should be that surprised — hell, they’ve done studies along these lines re: the effects of heading the ball in soccer (and no soccer jokes, Vinny).

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