Fighting in hockey is about love, people

By John Buccigross |

I've written in this space on fighting before. Here and here.

In a nutshell, my views of fighting:
1. I like fights. They accelerate my heartbeat. I like to see who really is strong and fearless.
2. When someone gets knocked out cold, I get nauseous and I don't like fights. Bare-knuckle fighting on ice in bladed boots would be illegal in any other situation.
3. I don't buy the argument that fighting prevents cheap shots. Fights don't now and haven't for decades.
4. If fighting is "banned" (fight = ejection, not five minutes), there will still be fights, as there are in football, baseball and basketball.

But here is another take.

"Love consists in sharing what one has and what one is with those one loves. Love ought to show itself in deeds more than words." -- St. Ignatius of Loyola

This is an NHL fighting blogumn based partly on a quote from a saint from Spain who died in Rome in the 16th century. NHL fighting is a lot of things and one of its functions, ironically, centers around love.

"Love consists in sharing what one has."

This is especially true and has the strongest effect when one has little to give. This is not to belittle a fighter such as Shawn Thornton, who might be the most effective "enforcer" in the NHL right now. While most enforcers are hugely respected and loved, Thornton seems to be interwoven in the fabric of the Boston Bruins' organization more than most pugilists. He has clout beyond his left hooks. Thornton has a strong leadership role because he does have some game. He and his fourth-line mates have made a difference in games with offensive pressure, keeping minutes of the top three lines down and building team unity by taking a legitimate turn pulling the rope. Thornton dressed for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in Vancouver in 2011 and played 11 minutes in the Bruins' Cup-clinching victory. He is not a sideshow.

"Love consists in sharing what one has and what one is with those one loves."

But, let's face it, Thornton is on the Bruins to fight -- to protect and serve. His job is to fight at the right time and, yes, fight to win. He shares what he has with his courage and his ability to fight. This makes Thornton loved by players and by fans. Shawn Thornton puts his short-term and long-term health on the line every time he fights. That is a form, ironically, of love. You get love by giving love and how does one better do that than by risking his own physical harm to protect or "support" another?

"Love consists in sharing what one has and what one is with those one loves. Love ought to show itself in deeds more than words."

Cue Extreme's "More Than Words," a Lyndon Byers romantic mix tape favorite in 1991. Shawn Thornton and Colton Orr and all of the other NHL players who will drop their gloves more than most are showing their love in deeds more than words. Hockey is a sport conducive to incessant chirping because it is the most difficult and frustrating game to play. No game requires more skill AND more courage. It is difficult and dangerous. That danger and difficulty, while leading to verbal explosions of joy, frustration and anger, also lead to a healthy respect and an underlining belief in karma. Too much boasting and/or too much talky-talky could lead to bad things happening in the future -- one of many contradictions in this highly emotional game. It's one reason NHL players are usually so humble and selfless during interviews.

This is also why one often sees fighters tap each other after a spirited bout or show immediate remorse after landing a stunning blow. That is the understanding and belief that chirping or taunting would be bad karma (the total effect of a person's actions and conduct during the successive phases of the person's existence, regarded as determining the person's destiny).

And I think this is why some people in the game are pro fighting (limiting it to a five-minute penalty is considered "pro fighting"), despite the minuscule risk of someone hitting the back of his head on the ice and dying. Despite the fact that small-penalty fighting could encourage and could be indirectly enabling gong shows at every level of hockey. And despite the fact that an enforcer takes the roster spot of a more talented player who could make the game more beautiful and skillful.

Yet, this display of courage and love through NHL bare-knuckle fighting is worth it and is heroic to some. It is a Cinderella story where Shawn Thornton can earn $1.1 million with his fists and face. When he takes one for the team, he takes one for the team and the city. Thornton has lived with that burden for every one of his 500-plus NHL games. It is not an easy job. But one of the values of hockey is that IT IS NOT EASY. The difficulty and lesson are celebrated because the more difficult the task, the more exhilarating the award. It's living at its most visceral.

And of all the difficult things in hockey, dropping one's mitts and looking at another man with fists and a face is the most difficult, an act of love for the teammate who can't readily fight for himself. Some are not born to fight.

So, despite all the negatives from hockey fights and how outdated and risky the behavior is, how the game is functional and beautiful without it, how it's like an unnecessary option on a loaded Porsche, and how negative small-penalty fighting could be for the image and growth of the game ("My Timmy is NOT playing a sport where boys PUNCH each other"), for some this act of love is what gives the NHL much of its heart.

They don't want to see this unspoken, unselfish deed die.


The updated BucciMane Top 10 #cawlidgehawkey Power Rankings:

1. Providence
2. Minnesota
3. St. Cloud
4. Quinnipiac
5. Michigan
6. UMass Lowell
7. Nebraska - Omaha
8. Ferris State
9. Yale
10. Clarkson


@Buccigross: College hockey is chippy at times but, from the large amount of games I have watched the past few years, I haven't seen any evidence that the lack of fighting in college causes cheap shots. At all. If you have a strong rulebook that is properly enforced, there is no need for fighting to prevent cheap shots.

@Buccigross: Humans are changing. Head injuries and the bigger issue of the human brain could become the story of the 21st century if big advancements are made in the understanding of the complexities of the human brain. The more we find out about the brain and concussions, the bigger challenge sports such as football and hockey will have.

@Buccigross: I mentioned that in one of my previous fighting columns from years ago. When one sees a good, clean hit in football (or even a late hit), there is not a fight in football. I get the idea of sticking up for one another, but a clean hit, in terms of the game, is a clean hit. If Sidney Crosby gets hit by a clean hit, like Tom Brady, then you move on. Strong rules and harsh penalties can protect stars.

@Buccigross: This is a real component to the debate. The customer base by and large enjoys fighting. That is very difficult for a business to deal with.

@Buccigross: I agree that a fight can change the tenor of a game. And there have been many instances where it hasn't. Again, the central question is, "Is it worth the risk?" Every other sport, the sports without fighting, have momentum changes. College hockey has momentum changes. Fighting isn't the only way. And again, this is coming from someone who by and large enjoys fighting, especially the spontaneous ones. I would love the NHL the same either way. And like I've said for the last 10 years, if fighting is "banned" (fight=ejection), there will still be fights like in other sports. Maybe more.

@Buccigross: I do. I don't know if that will be in five years, 10, 20, or 50 years. It's likely only a matter of time.

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