Why is it that fighting in the NHL is a culturally embedded aspect of ice-hockey and how does this violence serve as a form of entertainment? Does it benefit the sport or take away from it?

It was the violence and fighting on ice that made me feel like I was apart of something, all while sitting on my couch watching through a TV screen. Reason being, it was something I had never seen before in sports and at the same time, kept me glued to the game. The controversial topic controlled violence in sports, specifically in the NHL is what I will be structuring my research around.

My first source was pulled from the ‘Journal of Sports and Social Issues’ and is titled “The Morality of Fighting in Ice Hockey: Should it be Banned?”. I was lucky enough to come across this source being that it is literally exactly what I was looking for. The article weighs out the negatives and positives in a 1-on-1 fist fight in the NHL and in essence considers that although fighting serves as a way to get the fans going, it often results in countless injuries and senseless violence. Not only do they observe the audience, but they focus most of their arguments on the morality, virtue ethics, and overall player happiness in terms of the outcome of fighting. “Surely there are more fans than there are players, and so one may argue in favor of keeping fighting in hockey because more happiness is produced in total for the fans. However, cases have occurred where fans (and players) have put their own enjoyment second to something more important: the players’ safety” (Lewinson, Palma: 109).

My second article titled “Honor, Ritual and Violence in Ice Hockey” by Kenneth Colburn Jr. explains that a fist-fight is hockey is s social ritual that has a cultural significance to the sport in terms of demonstrating ‘traditional codes of honor’ (Colburn Jr., 155). He theorizes his argument by defining what constitutes violence and how assaults on the ice can be ‘legitimate versus illegitimate’ (155). “Fist fights, unlike stick assaults, are viewed by players as legitimate, if formally proscribed, form of assault; they are not generally considered to be violent acts… As I have heard many players, fans, and officials say on numerous occasions, fist-fights are “part of the game”” (156-157). Cheap-shops are an illegitimate form of violence becauce they ‘violate the informal norm of respect between competitors’ (161). Instead of completely wanting to throw out fighting like the first article I chose, Colburn’s evidence proves that a fist-fight between players can be a moral consideration.

My third and last journal article by Michael D. Smith titled “Towards an Explanation of Hockey Violence: A Reference Other Approach” attempts to explain violence in hockey through interviews with players (both professional and amateur), coaches, parents, and spectators. The article theorizes that fighting at the young age is not condoned and doesn’t happen often if not ever. We tend to see progress with fighting as players move up into the ranks from young to professional, and that it ‘reveals a widespread climate of approval’ once at the professional level (Smith, 105). Hockey players themselves approved of fighting unless it is ill-advised and cheap. “As for those whose role is to start fights, the professionals talked about two main types. Both are supposed to (1) protect weaker teammates, (2) put heart into their team by dropping an opponent, (3) intimidate opposing players, stars especially… The “cement head,” or “goon,” does not adhere to the “rules” of fighting… and is disliked for his unpredictability and potential to injure” (Smith, 119).

This past quarter I have focused most of my writing on how violence professional ice-hockey effects its audience in a way that vitalized the sport and forges an emotion that can be quite addictive. In this research blog, I focused my attention not only on how fighting in the NHL proves to be ritualized in the culture, but also how the hockey players themselves really feel about it. I feel like this was a great way to round up my research as a whole to create one established notion: Fighting in ice-hockey should continue to be apart of the game in order to uphold its history, liking, and overall culture, while also giving fans an experience.


Jr., Kenneth Colburn. “Honor, Ritual and Violence in Ice Hockey.” The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers Canadiens De Sociologie 10.2 (1985): 153-70. JSTOR. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. .

Lewinson, Ryan T., and Oscar E. Palma. “The Morality of Fighting in Ice Hockey: Should It Be Banned?” Journal of Sport & Social Issues 36 (2012): 106-12. SAGE Journals. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. .

Smith, Michael D. “Towards an Explanation of Hockey Violence: A Reference Other Approach.” The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers Canadiens De Sociologie 4.2 (1979): 105-24. JSTOR. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

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1 Response to Ritual

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    I like that you found an array of sources on this topic, each of which answers the question differently. It demonstrates the complexity of cutural analysis well. You mention the culture and history of the sport around hockey a number of times. I’d enjoy hearing more about how this culture and history connects with larger cultural trends and histories. How does this tradition of violence connect with larger narratives and practices of violence in culture? How does this relate to masculinity, sexuality, nation, or race? Is there a connection between sport and militarization in this practice of hockey?

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