"We've reached a crisis of faith for some fans that have admittedly enjoyed fights for the entirety of their hockey lives, but who now are having second thoughts.
But for other fans — and I count myself among them — the brain injury epidemic is a product of an inherently violent game.
I'll never apologize for being pro-fighting. It's the game I grew up with, and I've always felt that players enter the NHL accepting that it's part of the gig"
- Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy Blog
The above quote from Puck Daddy today was somewhat of a revelation to me, in light of the spirited but civil back and forth I had with Peter Raaymakers of Silver Seven yesterday after I wrote a piece defending fighting in the NHL as a sort of response to an earlier piece he posted on his Silver Seven blog about the human toll that fighting can take on the players who bravely fill that unenviable role.
Much like the rest of the hockey community, a debate about fighting never really seems to change people's minds on either side, and I remain convinced that fighting is not only a vital part of the entertainment package the game provides, but that it's an essential function in hockey, an often brutally physical sport where star players need protection and room to ply their skill in a league full of fourth liners looking hack and whack their way to the next paycheque.
Yet to take that view today is somewhat of a humbling experience, with the latest press crusades against violence in hockey creating an atmosphere where admitting that you enjoy that aspect of the game is perhaps something that you should either hide or be ashamed of.
As Wyshynski said above, you should never have to apologize to anyone or hide the fact that you enjoy fighting in the NHL. It's okay to hold the view that the NHL is about entertainment and not about reflecting the strict moral standards we have to live by in our regular everyday working life. It's okay to cheer for two grown men who are heavily compensated financially for what they do, to fight for their teammates, their team and their fans. Even if a player gets hurt in a fight, that's no reason to hang your head in shame for your supposedly "barbaric" tastes. Players know the risks. They don't have to do it. Many don't and get by just fine. Others thrive in the role. Some are affected negatively. They buy the ticket and take the ride.
On the other hand, there is no reason not to be civil on either side of the fighting debate. For as long as there's been fighting in hockey, there have been people opposed to it and they have a valid point to make as well. In the next few seasons, I predict this issue will be at a fever pitch and there will be plenty of pressure on the league to reduce injuries from fighting, even if that means banning it outright.
That's an issue for another day. But while it exists in the NHL, there is no reason not to enjoy it if that's a part of the game you like. Listen to the arguments from both sides, but never hang your head in shame over it.
I certainly won't.