I’m Done With Fighting

Ask any hockey fan about their favorite memories and sooner or later you’re going to hear about a fight. You’ll hear about Wendel Clark pummelling Marty McSorley and Felix Potvin speedbagging Ron Hextall. You’ll hear tales of Wade Belak exacting revenge on Cam Janssens or Colton Orr breaking Chris Neil and Matt Carkner or maybe you won’t be talking to a Leafs fan.

Don’t take this as being sanctimonious or an attempt to be holier than thou; it’s time for fans to recognize that fighting in the NHL isn’t ok. It doesn’t make us bad people for having cheered for and enjoyed fights in the past but there’s more information now. Bob Probert’s death revealed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease prevalent among people with multiple brain injuries.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Symptoms of CTE include depression and suicidal tendencies. We don’t know anything about Rick Rypien’s death today but if anybody wants to place a cash bet that it wasn’t suicide and he didn’t have CTE I’m willing to give you good odds. Ultimately we, the fans who pay for tickets and cheer for fights, are responsible for the men who sacrifice their brains for our entertainment. This isn’t intended to be a sanctimonious lecture on the evils of fighting because I stood up for every fight I ever saw in a hockey rink. 

I don’t think people who like fights are troglodytes because when I woke up this morning I was a fan of hockey fights. Speaking as someone who’s had some serious brain trauma though the stories of Derek Boogaard, Bob Probert and others have been on my bruised mind for a while. I like watching fights and I like it when players fight but I just don’t think I can support it anymore so count me out. You might consider what the cost of cheering people punching each other in the head really is.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Peter Raymaakers had a great piece on this yesterday too.


    I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that the players that are in the NHL solely as ‘enforcers’ are suffering a terrible physical and mental toll. That’s the kind of fighting I would like to see out of the game.

    Players shouldn’t be making it to the NHL because they can chuck knuckles well. Those spots could be open for actual hockey players.

    However, I don’t think heat of the moment fighting – think Iginla v. Lecavalier – should be removed from the game.

  • elseldo

    I appreciate and understand the thoughts on all of this but there is no link between fighting and the untimely deaths of these good guys. People forget sometimes how hard Probert played away from the rink and he was in his fair share of car accidents, which could cause significantly more head trauma then a fight. Boogard and Rypien each dealt with there own demons that most likely are not hockey related (its possible though). The causality simply is not there to make the link between fighting and these deaths.

    • Absolutely there are other factors involved but why not control the one factor that is totally within the league’s control?

      Not to mention that substance abuse could have eaasily been exacerbated by the pressures of the role and the damage to the brain from fighting.

      • Danny Gray

        There are a lot of factors within the league that could have affected all of these guys. The pressure of living up to a contract, the presure of earning a contract, the presure of winning, the presure of carrying the hopes of a city on your back, the worry of being hit hard. Perhaps these pressures could be linked the the problems that these guys had as well. It’s just as likely as linking the pressures and damage from fighting to their issues.

    • more head trauma !!!THEN!!! look it up in the dictionary. That word means a time not a comparison. It should be spelled thAn.
      dealt with THERE own. Again, that word means in this place. In this case it should read their.
      I can’t stand reading such poor English.

  • elseldo

    Players shouldn’t be making it to the NHL because they can chuck knuckles well. Those spots could be open for actual hockey players.

    However, I don’t think heat of the moment fighting – think Iginla v. Lecavalier – should be removed from the game.


    This I agree with, and cutting down to 3 lines per team wouldn’t leave room for those who only play 5 or 6 min a night as an enforcer.

    The NHLPA would never go for it, but it would reduce on ice rosters by the least needed 90 players in the league, reduce the amount of off the face off/someone got laid out with a clean hit fights and the games would go faster without the unnecessary stoppages (something broadcasters would love)

    Would a drop in fighting draw more people in to watch? I doubt it, but I also doubt less people would watch.

    A big deal is made fo fighting, but really, it’s just a breif intermission from the real game.

  • ryantologist

    If you assume the worst (and I have) about fighting’s role in the downfalls of Rypien and Boogaard, I still wouldn’t toss it out, at least not as a matter of policy, and not for that reason (I do think fighting is becoming, and will continue to become less prevalent for hockey-specific tactical and roster management reasons, but that’s not really this discussion).

    I think the real problem is a lack of information. Guys fall into a “I’m a hockey enforcer” frame of mind early on, without understanding the risks they’re taking with their physical and mental health, and hockey culture should strive to change that. Still, even fully informed, I think a lot of players (fewer, but not enough fewer to ever cause a shortage) will decide to take the risk of being a goon. At the outset of an opportunity to lead a million dollar lifestyle without ever having to hold a real job through a somewhat shortened life, with a near certainty that the end of it will be really awful, and some chance that the shortening will be severe, and some chance that it impedes your ability to enjoy it while you have it, I think a lot of players would elect to take that chance. I probably would.

    Let’s concentrate on getting everyone more informed. Some of them will still want to roll this particular set of dice, and I don’t think we should force them not to, even if it makes us cringe.

      • ryantologist

        That only counts as a problem if you take it as gospel that it’s better for them if they don’t go that route. If someone considers the likelihoods of each, and decides the hazards of being that kind of player are, for them, a worthwhile tradeoff for that route to the NHL and lots of money, I’m not comfortable saying it shouldn’t be.

        • And that’s fair enough. I don’t know if the solution necessarily has to be a strict, top-down rule or anything.

          I think the real solution if everyone else saying “this is stupid, dangerous and wasteful” from the fans to the coaches and the GM’s. It would take away the impetus for the designated fighter and destroy that path to the NHL.

        • Agree which is why I don’t think trying to tell players in junior to bypass a viable route to riches will work or is worth the effort.

          I’d rather the efforts are focused on not making it a viable route. If the only way you’d make the NHL is because you’re willing to fight I’d rather not have you on the ice.

  • Not sure where I stand on this. I can see where Chemmy is coming from though, and it isn’t like he’s saying that cheering for a fight is for idiots. Maybe the NHL needs to tighten up on mental health issues and substance abuse? Probert’s heart exploded because he snorted too many lines back in the day…obviously the fact that his brain was deteriorating isn’t good, but I don’t know that eliminating fighting would have spared him an early death. This isn’t really a reply to the article directly, just a couple thoughts on the subject.

    I’d like to see staged fighting out, but I know I’m gonna cheer if Luke Schenn pounds someone for slashing Reimer or whatever.

  • Danny Gray

    It seems that NHL enforcers are a distinct breed. In Peter Raymaakers excellent article he has a quote from John Scott: “I don’t think people understand the nerves and the kind of mindset that fighters go through. I’ve stayed up nights not sleeping a wink because I know I’m going to fight someone the next day.”

    I think that’s they big thing, enforcers have a completely different mindset as a result of their role. It clearly takes a mental and physical toll.

    While, plenty of skill guys deal with that pressure in harmful ways I think we can acknowledge that it’s a different type of pressure. And think about all the fights a guy like Orr et all had in Junior hockey when their brains were still developing.

    While we don’t know everything we know enough about the brain to know that an enforcer will suffer unique brain trauma compared to other hockey players. And that they are more at risk for a whole host of other problems as a result.

  • I think the focus should be on the role of enforcer itself. It grants no benefits to the team on the ice and comes with all sorts of terrible costs to the player; either currently in the form of concussions or psychological impact (depression, stress, etc), or later with drug abuse and brain damage. Essentially a few guys on a roster are fed into a meat grinder because of some convention/ritual that was probably never as useful or needed as was assumed.

    Fighting you’ll probably never eliminate entirely, although I also wouldn’t weep if they changed the penalty from a five minute major to a game misconduct or something.

    • Danny Gray

      Exactly, I think banning fighting at the Junior level would be a good place to start. These kid have developing brains, the last thing they need is to have their brain punched repeatedly.

      • elseldo

        i came to the realisation last year, that when you’re at aJunior game you can easily forget these are teenagers attending high school (mostly) that you’re cheering and jeering.

        it’s easy to get caught up in crowd during a fight but yeah, they’re just kids.

        • Danny Gray

          Oh yeah, the Junior games are much worse (this might just be observation and confirmation bias) but they seem to might much more often. I remember when Brandon Prust played for the Knights. I went to a game and he got in at least 2 fights. I was sitting behind the penalty box and just loving it. He was chirping the other guy in the box incessantly.

    • angy

      Having slept on this last night I feel the same way. I don’t think I mind the occasional fight for a good reason.

      Staged fights between enforcers are boring, add nothing to the game and could cost players their lives. I won’t be cheering for them.

  • I had the same moment with the NFL last year, where it’s coming to light that repeated shots to the head will do long term mental damage to a person. In the NFL you have players who lead with their own heads to tackle, an unfortunate by-product of trying to lead with the shoulder to create a brunt impact when tackling (as opposed to tackling with arms, which may not have the force needed to bring down a player).

    That, coupled with the lack of post-career support an NFLer gets from the league and players association led me to feel as though what I was watching wasn’t too far from the Colosseum days of man vs animal/man to the death fights for entertainment. And I’m not comfortable with that.

    The NHL is finding that bigger, faster players making hits in a smaller arena also does damage, and, it would be safe to assume that fights with punches to the head also contribute to that.

    The point here is that the NHL isn’t alone in this area. The CFL and NFL have brain banks that do post mortem studies on studying the affects of head trauma on the human nervous system.

    However, my hopes are not high that there will be any such collaboration amongst the leagues. Players are rarely treated as humans, moreover they are considered commodities, and until they stand up for their rights, the debate will continue, should we allow staged fighting (or fighting at all) in the NHL?

    In the meantime, thank you Chemmy. Not to be too presumptuous, but I think the both of us would like to see Colton Orr get more assists than fights this year.

  • mpklaus

    Chemmy, or is it Chumley? You are a bufoon! Blaming it on the fans now? The fans don’t force players to play. They,(any player) could just as easily have gone into another profession, no one is forcing them to play. A true hockey fan goes to a game, to see the game played, and granted, a fight may break out…..that’s hockey. You don’t even know the cause of death yet, and what is more shamefull on your part is that you would bet on the reason for the death. You are a piece of trash.

  • angy

    I never called myself a hockey fight fan, but never was anti-fighting either. It was just there. If there was a fight, I cheered on my player to come out on top. I loved the Olympics though and didn’t need fighting to enjoy it.

    I don’t watch hockey to see a fight, I watch hockey for so much more than that.

  • DeanoTPS

    2 things. One, I think it is too early to pin Rypien’s issues on fighting. Lots of people battle severe depression that have never been in a fight, and lots of fighters have made it through their careers without any issues. Let’s leave the autopsy to medical professionals.

    That said, I agree with Chemmy’s point about eliminating the staged fight between two guys that serve no other purpose. Once upon a time enforcers were there to protect the stars, to keep other players from taking liberties. Truth is, enforcers only fight each other, and rarely if ever touch a star.

    My solution is to make the teams play short handed while the players serve their majors. Most coaches would prefer to avoid that scenario, and would therefore keep anyone looking for a fight off the ice.

  • From subjective perception, there does seem to be increased incidence of depression/alcohol and substance abuse amongst tough guys and fighters in the NHL versus the general population of hockey players, meaning the regular rigors of being in the NHL don’t seem to be causally related to the depression et al. That said, I certainly don’t have hard figures on that so it could be a false impression.

  • DeanoTPS

    So no cheering for MMA/UFA or pro boxing either then?

    I think the idea of enforcers has got to go. For sure there will be fights, where angry young men are involved, but, yeah… You guys have said it all anyway.

    RIP Ripper, Boogeyman, and Probert, too.

  • I was never a big fan of MMA. It’s probably safer than sideshow fighting at a hockey game since they’re pros who train for nothing else, the ring is padded, there’s mandatory breaks if you’re TKOed, etc.

    • No, sadly that’s a heavy burden to bear and certainly other factors played heavy roles in this tragedy. However, Chemmy’s point is that the most easily controlled factor – one that could certainly have an impact on other pre-existing issues – needs to be controlled to protect fighters.

  • I agree that staged fights, heavyweights and non-functional toughness is a thing of the past and really should be phased out sooner than later.

    “We don’t know anything about Rick Rypien’s death today but if anybody wants to place a cash bet that it wasn’t suicide and he didn’t have CTE I’m willing to give you good odds.”

    ^That line, however, struck me as really classless.