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The Denver Post offers a SI-similar—and very different—take on the necessity of fighting

George here on the late shift. These stories hit the wires yesterday, or so their time-stamps state, but they weren't posted here...And if they aren't posted here, I tend to assume that the Nick Lidstrom of blogging has seen 'em and chosen to let them pass as they've hit a particularly repetitive tone.

The Denver Post does indeed tread upon some familiar ground in echoing Sports Illustrated's "50 Landmark Hockey Fights" with a series of articles about fighting, and it includes a similar Stu Grimson-penned endorsement of fighting to the one Grimson penned for SI, but it goes along the same path on a slightly different tack. I think they're worth reading.

Adrian Dater and Mike Chambers list their own "landmark fights," offer a "history of fighting in hockey," and they note the trio of enforcers who've passed away recently in Mark Rypien, Derek Boogard and Wade Belak, and yes, again, Grimson makes his mark with a new endorsement of hockey's version of self-policing, but all of the articles speak from a post-NHL alumni concussion lawsuit-filing perspective--including a Sunday notebook's version of Dater suggesting that the lawsuit is unlikely to reach its aim--but Dater and Chambers offer what I can only describe is a startling split in perspectives given that they speak to Avs enforcers Patrick Bordeleau and Cody McLeod about keeping their opponents honest...

The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Bordeleau will fight anyone the Avs ask him to in order to protect less physical teammates. The 6-2, 210-pound McLeod will square off with anyone too afraid to trade blows with Bordeleau.

"You have to be able to play the game and not just fight," McLeod said. "(Fighting) is a little bit in the back of your mind, but compared to like 10 years ago, you're not thinking three nights before who you're playing and who you're going to fight."

They risk a physical beating, such as being punched in the face, and they can't afford to nurse injuries by not finishing body checks. But, as long as they play their role, they'll have a job, which is why they regard fighting as being integral to hockey, despite the physical punishment.

"You have to keep the guys honest. That's why fighting is there, and I don't think you can take that out of the game," Bordeleau said. "It's like how Bobby Orr said, 'If there wasn't fighting back in the day, the game would be disgusting.' If there is no fighting, what are you going to do, crosscheck a guy in the face instead? That's why I think it will never disappear."

And that story continues, but is contrasted significantly with none less than Scotty Bowman addressing the issue in an interview with both Chambers and Dater--among others, including former Colorado Avalanche enforcer Scott Parker, NBCSN analyst Brian Englbom, attorney Joe Cammarata and a physician in James Kelly...

"You worry about these rats that might go around chopping everybody's ankles and thinking they could get away with it," Bowman said. "Most of my teams were really good and had trouble having just a pure enforcer make the roster. But we still had some. You have to be able to respond. If a team feels like it can intimidate you in any way, they have an advantage and they'll use it."

No rule prevented the opening-night fight in October between the Montreal Canadiens' George Parros and Colton Orr of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The heavyweight enforcers fought until Parros lost his footing, hit his head on the ice and suffered a concussion. Parros' helmet was ripped off his head by Orr, now a common move to get around the new helmet rule. (Players unbuckle their chin straps and allow the opponent to slide the helmet off their head.)

For all the talk of phasing out fighting, the NHL isn't about to turn its back on its fans or its players. Overwhelmingly, hockey fans love fighting, and players believe it's necessary.

In a survey on Twitter last week, the first 50 respondents who were asked if fighting should be banned answered no.

NHL players have much the same view. In a 2011 NHL Players' Association/CBC poll, 98 percent of players were against abolishing fighting.

"We're the only sport where fighting is allowed and you feel like it's part of the game," Chicago forward Bryan Bickell said. "The people running the teams want it, players want it, the fans want it, and the bottom line is it prevents players from running around looking to hurt guys and holds them accountable for their actions. There are going to be times where people are going to be hurt. But it's the nature of the game."

After the other luminaries weigh in, Chambers, who covers college hockey beat as well as the Avs' beat, rather passionately makes the case for not going the NCAA route in banning fighting at the Major Junior or developmental hockey levels, lest the NHL invite less-disciplined players into its ranks on a blanket basis...

When playing against a young NHL player, Avalanche center John Mitchell can usually tell whether he was groomed in the Canadian Hockey League's major junior system or on NCAA ice.

If that player came from the NCAA ranks, he's more likely to be a loose cannon, because college hockey has such stiff penalties for fighting, which draws a game misconduct and ensuing one-game suspension. The NCAA also mandates full facial protection with a mask. While that might seemingly make the NCAA game safer, Mitchell said what it does is encourage more cheap shots, because players don't fear retaliation.

"If you take fighting out of the game, you're going to have guys taking liberties on your top players, and trust me, that thought is in the back of their minds: 'Hey, if I'm going to go out there and do something stupid, I might have to answer the bell. Someone is going to be come looking for me,' " Mitchell said. "So if (fighting is) out of the game, they have no worries."

The semi-pro Canadian Hockey League (major junior) mimics the NHL regarding its rules, including fighting, and offers a choice of cages or visors. NCAA hockey is often dubbed "gladiators on ice," with players less fearful of opponents because of the severe fighting penalties and added facial protection. Cross checks to the face mask are delivered instead of punches to the face.

Since fighting is not part of the college game, the majority of concussions hockey players suffer are a result of contact to the head from a shoulder or elbow or having a head smashed against the boards or glass. Moreover, NCAA players often get away with landing glove punches, but just because it's not a bare fist connecting with a open face doesn't mean it isn't damaging to the head.

Dater describes Scott Parker's post-hockey life and does so in a manner that is less than a ringing endorsement of the life of the enforcer. Quite the opposite, though Parker insists that he holds no bitterness toward what fighting on skates for a living may or may not have dealt him in terms of life-long after-effects:

Scott Parker lies in bed, dreading what might come next. Soon after awakening, his ears ring so loud they seem like the equivalent of a hundred fire alarms. Waves of nausea wash over him until he vomits. His eyes glaze over.

One of the toughest men to ever play in the NHL is knocked out, not from an opponent's punch, but from simply getting out of bed.

Nearly six years since he retired from the NHL as one of its toughest enforcers, Parker is finding everyday life a more fearsome opponent than any he dropped the gloves against. Some days he feels fine. Many days he finds himself paying the price of years of blows to his head. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Parker — nicknamed "The Sheriff" as a player — frequently is debilitated by seizures. He has to wear sunglasses most of the time because too much light can bring on headaches that leave him incapacitated. When Parker looks down, he cannot "track" objects. Otherwise, he gets dizzy and nauseous.

He is only 35, but Parker's short-term memory resembles someone much older. He is so forgetful that he has to write down routine things such as needing to make a trip to the grocery store. He often takes pictures and videos with his phone to remember how to do things such as use tools in his woodworking and metal shop.

"I can see right away when he's having a bad day," said Francesca, his wife of 15 years. "When he wakes up, he's in a fog. I can talk to him and I can see it's just going right through him. And then he's forgetful. He has words in his head, but what comes out of his mouth is totally different than what he's thinking."

This story continues at length, and it's arguably more fascinating and gripping than reading what Bowman, Engblom, Cammarata or Kelly, the doctor who convinced Parker to retire, issue in the "main thrust" article, it makes you wonder whether Grimson's Denver Post-submitted endorsement of dropping the gloves has met its living, breathing matches in people like Parker, Darren McCarty and Grimson himself:

[T]he presence of an enforcer keeps the other team honest. The opposition is far less likely to take liberties with your team when you have an enforcer. And think of it this way: If the ultimate goal is to reduce trauma to the head, the threat of a fight is one tool in a small basket of tools the NHL has at its disposal to curb that sort of behavior. The enforcer, just like a ref on the ice, acts as a deterrent. If a player knows he has to answer to George Parros when he acts up, he's far more likely to keep his elbows tucked in.

Having said that, I am the first to admit that the justification for fighting is less compelling today than it was when I played. The game has evolved; I don't recall the last time I saw one team come out on top simply because it brutalized its opponent. There was a day when the tougher team was most often the team that prevailed. Today, that seems to be the exception, not the rule.

If you want to ban fighting, do it for that reason. Ban fighting because the game has outgrown it. But I'm not convinced it has.

Do we really have a choice any more? I've had all of two concussions in my lifetime, both due to slipping and falling on my own butt, but the second was accompanied by incredibly bad post-concussion symptoms, and the acute sensitivity to light that gave me lingering headaches and a, "I'm looking at a bleached-out image burned into an old CRT monitor" after-image seemingly burned into my retinas has never really gone away.

The more we learn about how very fragile and fickle the jiggled, jostled and bruised brain can be (as a Wings fan, witnessing Pavel Datsyuk miss a week due to an "inadvertent" elbow from Jared Cowen has the whole fan base worried, and we have no clue what the Penguins fans of the world have to think every time Sidney Crosby gets targeted), the more I wonder whether we can justify allowing the players who play the game we love to watch--and pay money to follow--to keep ramming their fists into each other's skulls, even if only infrequently.

What do you think?

Filed in: | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: brian+engblom, cody+mcleod, scott+parker, scotty+bowman, stu+grimson

Comments

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I’m on the side of Grim.  If the game outgrows fighting and players are angels on skates let fighting fall by the wayside naturally.  Until then, someone needs lay a beating on Cowen.

Posted by SlimChance on 12/02/13 at 08:59 AM ET

Vladimir16's avatar

“You worry about these rats that might go around chopping everybody’s ankles and thinking they could get away with it,” Bowman said. “Most of my teams were really good and had trouble having just a pure enforcer make the roster. But we still had some. You have to be able to respond. If a team feels like it can intimidate you in any way, they have an advantage and they’ll use it.”

Why Holland doesn’t understand this is beyond me.

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 12/02/13 at 10:02 AM ET

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Do we really have a choice any more?

Yes.

The last time I checked, nobody was dragooned into the NHL to be a fighter.  They weren’t drafted, or captured by 1700’s era pirates and shipped across the ocean, or had family held captive to ensure performance.

If players don’t want to fight, they don’t have to fight.  That’s what choice actually means.

What you’re agitating for is choice without consequence, which does not exist.

Scott Parker could have stopped fighting any time he wanted.  Had he stopped fighting any time he wanted, he would have been out of the NHL.  So, as a human male he made the decision in the moment to fight (and make nearly 5 million dollars by the way).

A consequence of that decision is that later in life he has a number of physical and mental difficulties he needs to manage.

This is what grown-ups do.  We make decisions about our own lives based on the best available information at the time through the prism of our own set of dreams/goals/interests, and then we deal with what happens as a result.

Just because other people have a different set of dreams/goals/interests than you do doesn’t mean the decisions they make are wrong, George, or that they somehow need to be protected from themselves because, hey, you know better.  Or at least you think you do.

Should we start ‘protecting’ people from making all sorts of other choices that might result in some form of harm to themselves?  Cops, firemen… military careers?

Ware the slope, George.

Why Holland doesn’t understand this is beyond me.

Well, yes.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 12/02/13 at 10:44 AM ET

SnLO's avatar

“You worry about these rats that might go around chopping everybody’s ankles and thinking they could get away with it,” Bowman said.

The enforcer, just like a ref on the ice, acts as a deterrent. If a player knows he has to answer to George Parros when he acts up, he’s far more likely to keep his elbows tucked in. –Stu Grimson

The problem is that though what they say is true, in practice it is only a side-show of the staged enforcer fight. The two guys lining up across each other for part of thier 3 minutes of ice-time for a wrestling match. Waste of time and roster space. If the real result of an enforcer was to beat the snot out of the chippy or “rat” player, then fighting does have its place and that player answers for his transgressions from one of his peers.

the more I wonder whether we can justify allowing the players who play the game we love to watch—and pay money to follow—to keep ramming their fists into each other’s skulls
Another rare occasion where HiHD is correct: This is what grown-ups do.  We make decisions about our own lives based on the best available information at the time through the prism of our own set of dreams/goals/interests, and then we deal with what happens as a result.
Should we start ‘protecting’ people from making all sorts of other choices that might result in some form of harm to themselves?  Cops, firemen… military

Do we also institute bans on other sports such as Boxing, MMA and UFC for the same reasons of “play(ing) a game we love to watch—and pay money to follow—to keep ramming their fists into each other’s skulls”? These people are paid large sums of money in exchange to accept the risks for our entertainment and they do so with no illusion there isn’t risk.

Checking out the SI article, there were a couple that broke the top 50 that were reaching into the way-back machine (for me anyway); a couple of “oh yeah, I completely forgot that fight” nostalgic moments:

37. Bruins vs. Red Wings (11/2/91)
The heavy-fisted bout between Boston’s Jeff Lazaro and Detroit’s Vladamir Konstantinov was just the beginning. As the teams skated off, an altercation between Red Wings’ forward Steve Yzerman and a fan brought everyone back, including Detroit enforcer Bob Probert

44. Herb Brooks vs. Jacques Demers (12/18/87)
Herb Brooks and Jacques Demers had a memorable coach fight. During an 8-3 rout by the Red Wings, the two exchanged barbs between the benches (note the lack of glass between them), with the North Stars’ bench boss calling Detroit’s Demers a “milk-truck driver,” and Demers responding by inviting Brooks to engage in fisticuffs

I miss Probert (RIP) and Konstantinov and not having players of their quality on the team.

Posted by SnLO from beyond the M-1 on 12/02/13 at 01:01 PM ET

SK77's avatar

Reading the Scott Parker excerpt is crushingly depressing.

Should we start ‘protecting’ people from making all sorts of other choices that might result in some form of harm to themselves?  Cops, firemen… military careers?

Ware the slope, George.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 12/02/13 at 09:44 AM ET

Not sure that I’d equate hockey fighters with people who have jobs that serve and protect your fellow humans.

There will always be someone willing to potentially ruin their life and that of their loved ones for a payday. And in the case of the life of a hockey enforcer who by the age of 35 is damaged good for lives and will be an emotional, physical, and psychological burden on those around them until the day they die … I’m not entirely against someone stepping in and saying enough is enough when it comes to dedicated fighters/fighting.

Posted by SK77 on 12/02/13 at 01:42 PM ET

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Like always, I disagree with hihd. Being about choice is over simplifying the issue.

Scott Parker could have stopped fighting any time he wanted. 

First of all, Scott could not stop himself mid punch. Most people’s brains are not wired that way. When rage and hormones take over it’s hard to turn back to reason so quickly.

Had he stopped fighting any time he wanted, he would have been out of the NHL.

That maybe true or may not be true. I’m sure Scott put a few goals in the net and helped out on a few others.

But that’s really beside the whole issue. Had fighting not even been a part of hockey Scott, and other “enforcers,” might not have even played hockey. Thus the need for the “choice” you are describing wouldn’t exist at all. Choice is the illusion of freedom because choice derives from someone else’s will about what to choose between. If I can determine that you choose between A and B but not tell you about C which is better for you then I control your actions.

So, as a human male he made the decision in the moment to fight (and make nearly 5 million dollars by the way).

Hmm, for $5 million dollars I think a lot of people would choose to fight for a living. Do you think he would have chosen the same career path had he been paid, $5 or $50 or $500,000? I doubt it. But the extreme amount of money impacted his choice - that is, someone who decided that $5,000,000 was a value for a non-skilled player.

We make decisions about our own lives based on the best available information at the time through the prism of our own set of dreams/goals/interests, and then we deal with what happens as a result.

Ahh, Causality. Who holds the knowledge then to make the best choices? How is that knowledge delivered to someone facing a decision? What other circumstances are impacting that knowledge or the recipient of that knowledge? If I withhold information about product A I can make you choose product B. Since you believe it is the chooser who is responsible for the choice there is no motivation for me revealing the information about A that will save you or about B that will kill you. You are saying I can guiltlessly craft the information about A that makes you choose death, B.

I’m beginning to like the crazy world you come from.

Just because other people have a different set of dreams/goals/interests than you do doesn’t mean the decisions they make are wrong…or that they somehow need to be protected from themselves because, hey, you know better.  Or at least you think you do.

Do you ever read the hypocritical shit you write?

Should we start ‘protecting’ people from making all sorts of other choices that might result in some form of harm to themselves?

If by protecting them you mean informing them of the dangers as well as the benefits of doing their job, then yes. Absolutely.

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 12/02/13 at 09:22 PM ET

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There will always be someone willing to potentially ruin their life and that of their loved ones for a payday. And in the case of the life of a hockey enforcer who by the age of 35 is damaged good for lives and will be an emotional, physical, and psychological burden on those around them until the day they die … I’m not entirely against someone stepping in and saying enough is enough when it comes to dedicated fighters/fighting.

Posted by some kid on 12/02/13 at 12:42 PM ET

Can I get another Amen?

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 12/02/13 at 09:23 PM ET

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I miss Probert (RIP)

Posted by SnLO from the sub great-white north on 12/02/13 at 12:01 PM ET

There’s a roller deby player with the name Bob Probert. He lives on.

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 12/02/13 at 09:26 PM ET

Nate A's avatar

The enforcer, just like a ref on the ice, acts as a deterrent.

And here’s the real problem.

If the refs -and in turn the league- did their fooking jobs and called penalties, kept games under control, and levied appropriately heavy and consistent fines and suspensions on both players and teams, then the circus side show of enforcers wouldn’t even be a issue.

I understand guys just getting so pissed off at each other in the course of play that sometimes they just gotta hug it out. It’s entertaining as hell once in a while, and there’s very little anyone can do to stop it from ever happening anyway. But the idea of fights, and especially enforcers, being a normal thing in the game is stupid.

No other sport has this “necessity” of fighting. They’re all just as vulnerable of having some replacement level guy targeting a superstar. Yet altercations are typically pretty isolated incidents. The in game rules and supplemental discipline in the other leagues typically take care of things pretty well.

Enforce the bloody rules so the players don’t need extra “protection” and vigilante justice of questionable effectiveness.

Posted by Nate A from Detroit-ish on 12/02/13 at 10:24 PM ET

redxblack's avatar

Who are the enforcers on a baseball team? When was the last major fight in the NFL, and what happened to those players?

Fighting is tolerated (and encouraged) in the NHL. It doesn’t just happen.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 12/02/13 at 11:55 PM ET

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The enforcers on a baseball team are the pitchers who hit guys with a 90+ fastball after one of their guys gets hit.  The NFL is a joke about any kind of contact. Suh pushed Cutler down with a forearm and the world almost ended. If the NHL becomes the NFL it won’t be good for the sport of hockey.

Posted by SlimChance on 12/03/13 at 12:51 AM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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