Let’s talk about fighting in sports

When a fight breaks out at a sporting event, it’s one of about two or three things that’s guaranteed to get the fans out of their seat for the moment.

But is there still a place for fighting in sports, especially with all that we know about head injuries now?

I bring this up because there was a “fight” in the NBA last night in the Bulls/Raptors game where two punches were thrown and just as many players were thrown out of the game.

If you didn’t see it, here’s what happened.

Hardly a fight, but still, something that escalated beyond the usual NBA “fight” of two guys doing the, “HOLD ME BACK BRO!” While not really wanting to get into a fight and just yelling at each other instead.

But does sports even need fights anymore? Leagues have done all they can to try to take it out, instituting stiffer penalties for those who do fight, and not just in the pros, but at all levels, trying to stamp it out so it doesn’t become a regular thing for those who do go pro.

I would argue that there is a place for fighting in sports, because as much as the officials in each sport try to keep the game under control, sometimes you do need to leave it up to the players to police themselves.

When Claude Lemeiux decked Kris Draper from behind in the 1996 NHL Playoffs, it set the stage for two insane brawls between the Red Wings and Avalanche. There was bad blood there from their playoff series, but that was as much the Red Wings sticking up for their teammate in a way they knew the league and the officials couldn’t.

Sometimes players have to police themselves, and that’s what it will sometimes escalate to.

Now, I’m advocating for a bench-clearing brawl like those two teams had, or that fighting needs to happen every game in order to keep the knuckle draggers in the crowd who still think it’s 1983 happy.

If your sport, league or team depends on fighting to sell tickets and it’s not boxing or MMA, you have entirely different problems with your product, but that’s a whole different story. But now and again, a fight does serve a purpose and can serve some good.

But to be clear, and I’ll admit I’m one who stands up and cheers during and after a fight at any game I attend, fighting is insanely dangerous and can turn scary in an instant.

Not just in hockey where guys might slip, fall and bust their head on the ice, but in baseball when the benches clear, in basketball when giant men start slugging, and in football when maniacs have helmets they can swing at each other. Shit, even NASCAR has fights after races or wrecks and that always ends up making the highlight real.

The key to getting rid of fighting, and I’ll use hockey here because it happens most often there, or at least limiting fighting, is stopping it at youth levels. If you’ve seen the movie ‘Goon’ that story plays out in junior hockey every year, where there are 16-20 year olds who think that punching other players in the head is their ticket to the NHL.

That’s insanely messed up. If that’s your thinking, go join a gym and become a boxer or MMA fighter.

Here in Amarillo we have the North American Hockey League, a Tier II junior league sanctioned by USA Hockey that allows fighting…but at a price, and it severely limits how often a fight actually happens.

Their rule, just instituted in the last couple years: A fight is the standard five-minute major, plus an automatic 10-minute misconduct. So you can fight, but be prepared to sit out for almost an entire period. You know how many fights I’ve seen this year in 10-plus games of going to the team here in town? Zero. So that deterrant has worked pretty dang well.

It’s a fine line, because fights do make people cheer and get the crowd going, but it’s insanely dangerous, and shouldn’t be the only reason people come to games.

The occasional fight is OK if done for the right reasons, but fighting just to fight is pointless, dangerous, and not fair to the guys whose coaches make them go out there only for that reason.








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