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The Ageless Question

Reporter Fluto Shinzawa doesn't think fighting should be allowed in major junior hockey:

Teenage life is already complicated. But think of the layers involved when a 16-year-old — or maybe his coach or parent — concludes that fighting other youngsters, rather than scoring or defending or stopping pucks, is the optimal career path.

Enforcers speak of the emotional depths they must negotiate to gear themselves up to fight. Teenagers are hardly equipped to deal with the mental strain of fighting a counterpart in front of their teammates, friends, coaches, and parents. Junior hockey is no place for such a hostile work environment.

Interestingly enough, Shinzawa is a strong proponent of fighting at the professional level.  In his opinion, grown men are much more capable of handling the emotional and physical strains of on-ice fisticiffs than teenagers:

The knuckle-draggers among us (hand raised way above crossbar height) hope fighting in pro hockey remains vibrant. It is one of few segments in the game in which its stewards practice honor, respect, and civility.

Consider Shawn Thornton. One of the toughest guys in sports. Will fight all the heavyweights. Understands the right time to scrap. Stops throwing when his opponent loses an edge.

But Thornton is a 35-year-old man. He has almost 20 years on some of the boys who are trying to become the next Thornton. Both science and common sense dictate that 16 years old is too young for hockey players to fight.

From a philosophical standpoint, Shinzawa's stance doesn't pass muster.  If a person supports the premise behind hockey fighting, it shouldn't matter whether a player is 18 or 38.  The fact of the matter is that a punch to the head can do just as much damage to the 15-year veteran as it can to a youngster in his late teens. 

Those who believe fighting serves a constructive role in the game do themselves no favors by making shoddy arguments.  To say it's okay for adults to throw down simply because they're more mentally mature and physically developed than a teenager adds a questionable caveat to what is, in fact, a philosophical debate. 

Pro-fight advocates are only taken seriously when they thoughtfully explain why it's best for players to hold each other accountable on the ice.  Claiming a 35-year-old Shawn Thornton should be allowed to drop the gloves because he isn't as likely to suffer a concussion as an 18-year-old Ty Bilcke isn't a very convincing argument.  In that regard, Shinzawa makes a great case for a complete fight ban at all levels of hockey. 

The fact that Shinzawa doesn't specifically address why he supports the concept of fighting doesn't take away from the legitimacy of the research he cites in his piece.  It's perfectly fine to highlight the effects of head shots on the teenage brain.  But in doing so, he seems to be minimizing the risk for older players, many of whom have suffered several concussions by their mid-20's. 

Supposedly, fighting is permitted in all professional and major junior leagues because it serves a legitimate purpose.  Dictating the age at which players should be allowed to fight ignores the entire premise of the debate. 

Filed in: | Tasca's Take | Permalink


Winged20Wheel's avatar

I like the fighting when tastefully done.  Useless fighting takes away from the clear need for it… And it’s just fun to watch.

Posted by Winged20Wheel on 10/24/12 at 12:13 AM ET

goon's avatar

I am sick and tired of these people wanting to take fighting out of Hockey.

Posted by goon from Grand Forks, ND on 10/24/12 at 12:15 AM ET


This has nothing to do with concussions or injuries due to fighting (which are extremely rare.) It’s about emotional maturity and the stresses involved in physical aggression at the fringes of the sports rulebook. We don’t allow our youngest players to check, so claiming the removal of one physical aspect of the agame can’t be accomplished without destroying the argument for fighting is a non-starter. Players in Jr hockey don’t need to play the NHL game. Fighting is not allowed at the high school/prep school level, nor in NCAA. Fighting for the sake of policing other professionals who make the mature decision to engage in fisticuffs should be reserved for professionals. This argument is about asking 16 year Olds to make rational decisions about what can be a highly emotional situation.

Posted by MacCherry on 10/24/12 at 09:48 AM ET

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.