“There is a fine line between how much violence causes entertainment and how much violence causes social disgust. When it comes to episodes of violence where the violence is kept to a minimum and no one really gets hurt, fighting is entertaining, and even encouraged” (Lewinson, 109-110).
Fighting in all sports is never permitted, and usually results in fines, suspensions, or in some cases complete termination. Violence in professional sports is never condoned and completely frowned upon, except for one case. In the context of the National Hockey League, fighting on the ice is not permitted and against the rules, but has been a culturally embedded aspect of the sport since its beginnings. When the gloves are dropped, the linesmen allow the players to go at it 1-on-1 until someone drops to the ice, creating what I have perceived as controlled violence.
My objective for this last portion of our class is to argue the notion that fighting in professional ice hockey is a moral consideration that serves to the interests of the fans, the players themselves, and the overall culture of the sport. My argument will include the themes of violence in entertainment, masculinity, and militarization. I will use my research and personal experiences with the sport to further support my argument.
Militarization and nationalism play an enormous role in the hegemonic and masculine norms in professional ice hockey. In “Football and the Nation”, by Hugo Benavides, the example of military like strategy is illustrated through football, which is a sport, that in terms of rough play, closely relates to ice hockey. “With its military-like strategy on the field and its culture of conflict and male solidarity, it possesses many of the markers that reflect the identity of the United States both at home and abroad, especially in the present climate of counter-terrorism: male bravado, war metaphors, competitive struggle for physical supremacy, extreme physical and emotional vulnerability, the recognition of rule and law, and an overriding celebration of the self-made individual” (Benavides). Militarization does not directly link to fighting, but this sense of masculine norms, rough behavior, and national/team pride all intertwine to create an arena where violent acts are more than able to occur. Believe it or not but in 2009n the NHL teamed with the U.S. Army to embed values and culture codes to players on the ice. “ The NHL has recently partnered with the U.S. Army to create themes and values for professional game play (NHL, 2009). Adapted from the U.S. Army code, they are as follows: (a) Loyalty: Bear faith and allegiance to you team…(b) Duty… (c) Respect… (d) Selfless Service… (e) Integrity… (f) Courage: Face fear, danger, or adversity even if it compromises your own safety… (g) Dignity” (Lewinson, 107). With evidence, it is clear that militarization, masculinity, and nationality serve to the cultural conduct of the NHL and give players codes to play by. With this linkage the NHL becomes a demonstration of Americas military, therefore creating what is known as ‘American Exceptionalism.’ When we identify what seems to be the root of this hegemonic masculine domain, it is then possible to move forward and begin to explain how fighting in the NHL serves as a form of entertainment.
Whether you are at home with a group of friends, or actually at a live NHL hockey game, the initiation of a 1-on-1 bout will get you out of your seat and will literally pull you into the game. My experience with ice hockey serves as evidence to what I’m arguing. As I stated in my first blog post, I had never watched a single hockey game until I decided to choose ice hockey as my sport. What was amazing to me was how an actual fight broke out during a game, which ironically was the first game I had ever watched. As the camera veered closer to the players fighting, fans on the outside of the rink were seen howling, and banging their fists on the tall, protective glass screens. As human beings, we seem to be intrigued to things that we are not used seeing in the media. With no prior knowledge of the sport, I got up and began yelling and cheering the two guys blow-for-blow. Because this fighting is technically not allowed, but happens regardless is what makes for good television. It is the fact the violence is controlled by referees, like a boxing match. As fans we feel safe because the linesmen are controlling the bout to make sure nothing heinous happens. Besides the actual fight or vicious check on another player, the only time the fans/audience are up out of their seats is when a fight breaks loose. Not only the fans, but also team players that are on the bench are up, cheering on their teammate engaging in the fight. A quote by Kenneth Colburn Jr. in “Honor, Ritual and Violence in Ice Hockey” justifies why the fist-fight in hockey has a cultural significance to the players themselves: “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”” (Colburn Jr., 156-157). In a sense, fighting in ice hockey seems to forge deep emotions, whether it is the fans, teammates, and especially the players in the fight. Another personal experience dates back to when I attended my first ever, live hockey game when UCSD played Chapman. In my “Learning Through Doing” blog, I highlighted my experience and went into detail when explaining my experience in watching the sport. Although A fight didn’t break loose, the fact that players were getting checked (tackled) left and right into the surrounding glass shields protecting the fans. It was events like those that jolted me out of my seat.
This begs the question: Why do hockey players fight? Hockey players fight for a couple of reasons, the first being that fighting is a way for a player to stand up for himself. Using the same article by Kenneth Colburn Jr. we are given a great example on how hockey players must police themselves which reads: “It is clear that players claim the right, whether officially sanctioned or not, to personally settle disputes concerning treatment of each other. This is reflected in the statement by players that every person has to “stick up for himself,” and it is informally acknowledged by other players, referees, and other officials…The very fact that participants of fist-fights are given relatively lenient penalties (usually five minutes in the penalty box), rather than ejected from the game, suggests the implicit cooperation of officials in permitting this code of honor to operate” (Colburn Jr, 165). For example, if a player is constantly being checked by his opponents stick and is going unnoticed, he may instigate a fight to make his opponent responsible for what he did. If the fight goes in the favor of the player getting hit with cheap shots, his opponent will no longer bug him. This results in sitting in the penalty box for five minutes. In essence it allows players to fend for themselves and police the game. Not only does fighting allow players to fend for themselves, it proves as a way to change the journey and momentum of a game. As I explained in the entertainment section of the essay, a bout can provide a newfound vigor and spirit to a team. When you witness a fight during a game, whether it be live or at home, the players on the bench are standing up, leaning over and banging their sticks on the ice. It provides an increase in energy to both teams when their teammates land a blow. “Player: Say, if you’re down and the game kind of drags along, you know, a good fight, not a real dirty fight or nothing, a good fight, if your team wins it or comes out pretty good in it, then it gets the guys going more. It gets sort of contagious and you know, that type of thing, and let’s go out there and show them we can do it” (Colburn Jr., 167). The fact that a controlled fistfight in the NHL does not amount to a player’s suspension or ejection, it proves that fighting in hockey shall remain a moral consideration and kept alive in the culture of the NHL.
Ice hockey is a game of honor, self-reliance, and spirit. I myself to not condone violence or any type of illegal foul play, but as I have experienced the world of professional ice hockey, I have come to the conclusion that the all natural, controlled fist fight in the sport serves to benefit all aspects of the sport including the teams, players, linesmen, and the fans. It is the fact that this form of controlled violence serves to be one of the most sacred and morally considered facets of professional ice hockey. This social ritual should be left alone, to forever preserve a sport that thrives off of some good ole’ roughhouse ice skating.
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.
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.
Benavides, Hugo. “Football and the Nation: Producing American Culture – Oppositional Conversations Issue I.” 1. N.p., 2012.