What if hockey were a black sport?

What if hockey appealed to black fans? Would fighting go away?

Writing on GQ, Mark Anthony Green this week mulls the cultural acceptance that fighting in hockey enjoys.

Despite continuing claims that hockey is trying to get fighting out of hockey, any hockey fan knows nothing can be further from the truth. Hockey fans love a good fight.

Why does hockey get a pass? Green says it’s mostly because it’s played by white people and enjoyed by white people.

Let’s start by considering the heavy dethugification of the NBA and NFL over the last two decades. Sure, there was sensible push back certain changes, like the dress code, because of racial undertones (Exhibit A: an image of Allen Iverson wearing a 8XL t-shirt and Titanic-shaming diamond chain courtside).

But community activists, players and coaches, league officials and journalists — most looked at the changes as positive. Professionalism being the most common and most comforting justification. Cam Newton kicks a defensive tackle and he’s fined $10k.

Kobe Bryant calls a referee a faggot and he’s fined $100k. For the last 15 years or so sports fans collectively felt they shouldn’t have done those things so, yeah, they should pay.

Even in a sporting world where boxing is accepted, hockey fighting seems too far. Boxers, well, box—which is very different than slugging someone bare-knuckled in the face until they fall down. It’s a sport rooted in discipline. Floyd Mayweather has more of a kung-fu, monk-like mind-set in the ring than that of a brawler. Not to mention, the physicality isn’t some random outburst of violence.

Boxing is sport, hockey fighting is fighting. Boxing in no way resembles that 4 a.m. bar fight.

So why should hockey players be able to physically, brutally fight? Let’s table the fact that numerous studies have shown hockey fighting can lead to brain damage. Or that players like Mike Peluso, who fought 179 times in his NHL career, are currently seeking damages from the league for the apparent concussion-related seizures and depression caused from fighting on the ice.

How many others suffer from fighting-related health issues who aren’t suing? The sports argument of whether it’ll augment the feel of the game or ruin the tradition. Table that argument because such defenses wouldn’t exist if hockey were watched or played by African-Americans.

“When violent action is labeled as acceptable the question then becomes: What exactly is America afraid of? The punch being thrown or the person throwing the punch?” he writes.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Preposterous.

  • I’ve wondered this for a while. It can’t be coincidence that so many viewed fighting in the NBA or NFL as “thug” behavior while fighting in the NHL was somehow considered “honorable.” If the NCAA and European hockey leagues can survive without fighting, so can the NHL. And if it truly can’t, it probably shouldn’t.

    • kevinfromminneapolis

      Completely different sports governed by different rules. Has about as much to do with race as the designated hitter.

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        Hey that actually might be a way to get rid of the designated hitter and make pitchers (of every race) learn to bat again.

  • I’m as big a hockey fan as anyone and I’d certainly like to see fighting go away from the sport.

  • BReynolds33

    As someone who used to cover hockey, I always enjoy the debate around fighting in hockey. Everyone tends to relate it to boxing, but almost 100% of the time ignore MMA completely. MMA is one of the largest, most lucrative sports on the planet right now, dwarfing the NHL in terms of revenue and ratings. Yet, no one seems to have an issue with those men fighting with nearly no rules whatsoever.

    It also is frustrating to know that when the debate starts around fighting in hockey, the fans get blamed. The fans could not care less if the players fight or not. I’ve asked them. I am one. Take it or leave it, but they are not going to abandon the game they (I) love just because people who likely are not hockey fans don’t like the fighting to the point that they won’t watch it.

    Fighting is in the game of hockey because, in the last poll, 99% of the players want it and feel it provides value to their game. In the NHL, the league cannot unilaterally change the rules of the game. The NHLPA has to approve all rule changes. Until someone finds a way to convince a majority of NHL players that fighting should go away, it isn’t going anywhere.

    Also, at least a handful of the greatest enforcers to ever skate in the NHL have been black.

    • A friend of mine made a great comment on this post when I shared it on FB: “Why
      do hockey teams need enforcers to protect star players, but the NFL
      doesn’t have enforcers to protect quarterbacks, the NBA doesn’t have
      enforcers to protect their star players, etc?”

      • BReynolds33

        The NHL doesn’t “need” enforcers. Most NHL teams do not employ an enforcer style player anymore, including the Wild. The question of employment of enforcer style players comes down to what your star player wants. If he feels better and more comfortable with an enforcer, why wouldn’t you employ one?

        Generally, in the NBA, no one is going to target a guy like Michael Jordan, and when there are only 12 guys on the team, maybe 7 of which actually play. In hockey, 24 guys are on the team, and 19 play every game. In the NHL, you have guys like Matt Cooke, who continually get contracts to hurt people. Enforcers do not stop this, but they make the players feel better.

        In the NFL, they don’t have enforcers because the star players know they are going to get hit and get hit hard. Hitting from behind is legal and expected. Hits to the head were just recently banned.

        The NHL is a different game. I din’t want to come off as a guy supporting fighting, because I’m not, but the answer is that you can’t compare the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. All different games, different cultures, different fans, different business models. Far too many variables for direct comparison.

        • This is why i find hockey today boring. In the ’70s, the big stars didn’t NEED enforcers. They enforced themselves.

          • BReynolds33

            I say we blame Gretzky. He had to be involved. He always had an enforcer.

          • Which is why he’s really not “the greatest.”

          • BReynolds33

            You are true Bruins fan, sir. Through and through.

          • Don’t forget – Michael Jordan was the “Wayne Gretzky” of the NBA.

  • jon

    Golf is a game played mainly by wife guys, and it doesn’t suffer from these types of disputes (except for when Happy Gilmore punched Bob Barker)