Moral Philosophy & Sport – Hockey Violence

Karen Kyung Fuhrmann – PHL376H1S – February 15, 2013 Fist Fight: The NHL Doesn’t Need Goons Introduction Fighting in NHL hockey is illegitimate; it is not an essential part of the game and is merely gratuitous violence. There is no need for a “goon” on the roster of any hockey team, and fighting should be prohibited in the NHL.
This paper will make the above argument in three parts: the first part of the paper will show that such gratuitous violence is not a necessary component of the structure of the game; the second part will show the counter argument for the legitimation of such violence; and the third part will provide a refutation of the counter argument. Fighting is Illegitimate in NHL Hockey The reason why fighting is illegitimate in NHL hockey is that it is gratuitous violence.
Such violence is illegitimate as it gives rise to what Jim Parry calls a genuine moral problem, which occurs “when violence exceeds what is necessary for its success, whether used instrumentally or not” (210). In hockey, the primary aim is to score the most goals to win and fighting does not contribute significantly to that aim. There are other forms of hockey, like pond hockey or pick-up hockey, which do not include fighting.

Fighting in NHL hockey is a mere consequence of a dominant model of competition, where external rewards can only be won by one party at the loss of others (McMurtry 205); this is translated into the commercial model of NHL hockey, and according to McMurtry, “…well-known and systematic pathologies of competitive conflict – violence, cheating… and so on – are a law-like consequence of the dominant structure of competition and not a problem of competition as such” (201).
In submerged and free models of competition, however, such pathologies do not occur (or as often) as in dominant models, because there are no ‘zero-sum’ rewards (external rewards that only benefit one party at the expense of others) to motivate pathological behaviour like fighting. Fighting is thus an inessential part of the hockey game. It is merely a negative effect of the dominant model of competition. The benefits of fighting (such as intimidation) do not outweigh its disadvantages (such as serious physical injury and wasting time) for ecuring victory – such violence exceeds what is needed to succeed and is a genuine moral problem. Counter Argument Fighting occurs to deter future illegal assaults from the opposing team and helps keep more dangerous play at bay. First of all, fighting serves as an informal mode of social control, because it is near impossible for a referee to view most illegal assaults (like cross-checking, spearing, etc. ) that occur around corners, nets, or when an official’s back is turned; especially with the speed and continuous play of hockey (Colburn 168).
Colburn asserts that “…to accommodate both these conditions of the game and also the demand for hard-hitting, contact type of sport, rule-enforcement in ice hockey has, to a greater degree than in any other major sport, been partially delegated to individual players” (Colburn168). Moreover, fighting serves as a deterrent for more serious assaults (with hockey sticks, and etc. ), as they give rise to intimidation and give enforcers a mental advantage over opposing players. Players view fighting as more honourable than illegitimate assaults (a. k. a. heap shots), and fighting directly calls out such occurrences. Unlike cheap shots, there are implicit standards for fighting known as “the code”. Such standards for fighting affirm that only two players are allowed to fight at a given time, both players must give some form of consent to fighting, and both players must drop their gloves. It is a misunderstanding that fighting in the NHL is gratuitous violence and Colburn states that “…formal rules of ice hockey do not coincide with the informal, social norms held by players as these pertain to the definition of violence” (156).
Refutation Fighting does not help prevent more serious injuries from occurring/recurring, and the issue of accurate surveillance by referees can be remedied by removal from the game and future game suspensions. A 2012 article in the Canadian Medical Association stated that research from Boston University School of Medicine has shown that repeated head trauma can lead to permanent brain damage, and claimed that hockey enforcers are especially vulnerable with their consistent fighting. What researchers… have found in the brains of three prominent hockey players – Rick Martin, Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert – should be enough to sway minds to impose a ban on all forms of intentional head trauma, including fighting, along with severe deterrent penalties such as lengthy suspensions for breaches” (Kale 275). With fighting and other intentional head hits, hockey has now been listed as a sport that results in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is associated with memory disturbances, behavioural and personality changes, Parkinsonism, and speech and gait abnormalities (Kale 275).
Moreover, players often overestimate the level of protection their face masks and helmets offer. This can be a contributing factor to cheap shots and reckless play, which in turn leads to fighting. These factors reveal that fighting merely contributes insult to injury. Conclusion Overall, fighting does not have a legitimate place in NHL hockey and thinking otherwise can lead to serious injury for all involved parties. Harsher penalties for illegal assaults and fighting should be implemented for both of them to stop occurring (immediate removal and future game suspension) and remove any gratuitous violence from NHL hockey.
Sources Colburn, Kenneth Jr. “Honor, ritual and violence in ice hockey. ” Canadian Journal of Sociology. 10. 2 (1985). 153-168. Web. Juhn, Mark, et al. “Violence and Injury in Ice Hockey. ” Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 12 (2002):46-51. Web. Kale, Rajendra. “Stop the violence and play hockey. ” Canadian Medical Association Journal. 184. 3 (2012): 275. Web. McMurtry, John. “How Competition Goes Wrong. ” Journal of Applied Philosophy. 8. 2 (1991) 201-210. Web. Parry, Jim. “Violence and aggression in contemporary sport. ” Ethics and Sport. Ed. Mike McNamee. London: E & FN Spon, 1998. 205-224. Web.

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