General Question

camertron's avatar

Why do hockey players fight?

Asked by camertron (2093 points ) January 18th, 2011

I saw my first hockey game on Saturday (the San Jose Sharks versus the St. Louis Blues) and was appalled at the way the players can get into fights. Their protective gear is thrown aside and they go at each other with their bare fists until one finally emerges as dominant. The referees do absolutely nothing to stop them, and the fans around us were on their feet, cheering them on in a disgusting, bloodthirsty way. To me, the fighting seemed unsportsmanlike, overly violent, and completely unnecessary. It ruined the game for me. Why do they fight, and why does no one stop them? In (American) football, players are penalized for “unnecessary roughness”. Why not in hockey?

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27 Answers

Seelix's avatar

Fighting is a part of hockey. Hits (bodychecks) are a part of hockey. Sometimes the hits get out of hand and lead to a fight.

Players fight for many different reasons: to get back at another player for taking a cheap shot or a dirty hit, to come to another player’s aid when he’s being bullied on the ice, or just to sort out differences between the two. Before faceoffs you’ll often see two players chirping at each other, and sooner or later, the gloves are off.

NHL players are penalized for fighting. Each fighter gets a 5-minute major penalty, and if one player is deemed the instigator of the fight, he gets an extra 2 minutes. Most hockey fights are mutually consensual – if a player doesn’t want to fight, he won’t fight.

alisonchains's avatar

In any game where there’s a high level of testosterone and adrenaline, there’s more likely to be a fight. I play soccer and I see the stupidest fights break out. In American football, at least there are pauses in the game. But in hockey, people are sliding around on ice, and it’s much easier to crash into each other, or bash someone against the wall, by accident. But with all those accidents happening throughout the game (probably more than with other sports) the aggression/resentment builds up faster. At least…that’s my theory!

PhiNotPi's avatar

As far as I know, in hockey the players are penalized. Penalties may take the form of one team having one less player in the rink for a certian time period, but I am not sure if this is how fights are penalized.

The last time I saw a hockey game, the refs did try to calm the fight, but didn’t step into the fight. I always thought that the referees were simply powerless to stop the fight. One or two people (on ice skates) can’t get involved in a fight between two strong and athletic hockey players. The refs have no padding to protect them, compared to the hockey players. The refs can’t risk the change of getting badly injured by the fight, so they don’t get in the fight.

absalom's avatar

Because the spectators find it entertaining.

Seelix's avatar

@PhiNotPi – Each fighter gets a 5-minute penalty, so both teams remain at full-strength. However, if one player gets an instigator penalty, that results in a regular 2-minute power play for the opposing team.

camertron's avatar

@Seelix but that doesn’t make it right, does it? I imagine that in many sports, trash-talk can make people mad, but in other sports it’s not considered “the norm” to fight about it. Sure, football players have been known to fight, but it’s certainly not something that happens on a regular basis as it does in hockey. My roommate told me that at least 2 fights break out in every game. In my mind, a 5–7 minute penalty is a much too lenient penalty – if the same thing happened at your friendly neighborhood bar, the two guys might be arrested for assault! It’s good to know that the fights are consensual though, and thanks for all your knowledge.

@alisonchains yeah, I totally get the adrenalin/testosterone thing – but at least they could retain some of their dignity or just shrug it off like all the other sports players do.

@PhiNotPi yeah, that’s what I thought originally, but then there was this one time where the refs did break up a fight that was started by a Blues player who ostensibly started it to avoid a Sharks player scoring on the Blues’ unprotected goal. I think the refs are perfectly capable of breaking up a fight, but they usually don’t because the fans would get too upset. They only break up the fights that are started to affect the outcome of the game.

@absalom that’s the only reason that makes real sense to me, but it sure makes the games feel as though you’re in some kind of medieval amphitheater watching two prisoners try to kill each other.

gasman's avatar

I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out.—Rodney Dangerfield

mindful's avatar

You can think of it as a “controlled” fight. Fights are consensual. the fighters know that they won’t end up badly injured as people are watching and their teammates are on stand-by. I don’t support foul play or wussy-foul calls in the NBA or soccer but I think this is a good way to get the aggression out that builds up due to constant shoving, scuffling etc. You can think of it as an equivalent of wrestling among siblings. As long as both parties have respect for the other and are not “out for blood” and there is no foul play, or strategic value, or publicity stunt I think its a mature and good way for two male adults to interact. I think if I were one of them, I would probably end up making friends with them because i would have respect for them etc. like a worthy opponent.

absalom's avatar

@camertron

Yeah, sports really are just more civilized iterations of war. Some being more civilized than others.

Jeruba's avatar

Isn’t that what they’re paid to do?

camertron's avatar

@Jeruba I thought they were paid to play hockey, which involves skating on an ice rink and shooting a small black disc at a goal.

Seelix's avatar

@camertron – You’re right, it doesn’t necessarily make it right. But like I said, most fights are consensual and you’ve seen first-hand that most fans like fighting. We just consider it a part of the game, that’s all. I can’t really give much more of a “because” than that.

I like @mindful‘s idea of a worthy opponent… that’s what it is a lot of the time. Often you’ll see the two players skating to their benches afterward and they’re in good spirits – I’ve seen players do the “fist bump” afterward too, as if to say “good one”.

wilma's avatar

I think it’s expected. The fans expect it and so do the players.
Usually it seems that the refs break it up when at least one player ends up on the ice. I think that is their cue to intervene.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

Yeah, as has been said – it’s such a physical game that often emotions get beyond the point of no return.

laureth's avatar

I think you may have answered your own question. ”...the fans around us were on their feet, cheering them on in a disgusting, bloodthirsty way”

I remember a while back, the rules were changed in such a way as to lessen fighting, and it was an unpopular move with the fans. Fans love a good fight – hence the standing and cheering. And you know who supports the ticket sales, merchandise sales, and, basically, the jobs of everyone from the players on down to the lady who sells the Dippin’ Dots in the concourse kiosk? The fans do.

Fighting isn’t acceptable in polite society, really. If the guy in the next cubicle over is talking on his phone all day, you can’t just go and bash him in the mouth, you’d be arrested and fired. If some jerk cuts you off in traffic, you’re not supposed to track him down and break his windows with a baseball bat. Watching a hockey fight is, I believe, a socially acceptable way to let off that steam. We’re programmed in a pretty tribal way, to feel very US vs THEM! and of course WE want to win, THEY are losers, and better yet if MY TEAM sends their pretty-boys packing with a splash of blood. No one likes to see it go so far that the other guy is seriously hurt – witness how everyone cheers when a downer gets up off the ice. But that rivalry sends the blood pumping and dollars into the economy.

Hockey: it’s soap opera for men. :)
and some of us chicks like it too.

josie's avatar

It’s part of the entertainment element of the game. Every hockey team has a guy on the ice that is hired to be a head hunter. He is rarely the best player. He is simply there to be the resident hard ass. People expect it. If it disappeared, so would lots of ticket sales.
Anyway, when was the last time you ever saw one of them go to hospital? They are not really doing big damage to each other.
You can see those round house punches coming from a mile away and they are all “arm punches”. Nobody is putting their weight behind them. Just part of the game.

talljasperman's avatar

@laureth @josie why not make the whole game into a fight if thats what the fans want? get rid of the hockey…

Seelix's avatar

Because that’s what boxing is for.

Fighting is a part of the game, as I’ve said above. Most fans do like to see a fight here or there, but it’s just a part of the excitement of watching your team play. We love the game because we love all aspects of it (or at least most). For me, fighting is a part of that.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

Because they’re goons with anger management issues, and because the general paying public finds their fighting entertaining and consider it a “part of the game”. It’s an ugly world we live in, and violence permeates media and entertainment, and people grow up thinking it’s acceptable when it’s really not. If those hockey goons do what they do on the street in public, they’d be charged with criminal assault. But put them on the ice in front of thousands of cheering, equally lunatic and barbaric fans, and their physical assaults are deemed acceptable and fun to watch. Human stupidity at its ugliest.

In general, guys in hard-hitting professional contact sports do not make the best husbands and fathers. Statistically, they have more than their share of wife beaters and issues of domestic violence. Sadly, we live in a “culture of violence”, and society these days seems to cast a blind eye to that.

Rarebear's avatar

@Jeruba is exactly correct. They get paid to fight, and are expected to. If, say they were penalized for fighting (like they are in baseball or basketball), you’d see a REALLY fast drop off in fighting.

Go to a high school or college hockey game and you’ll barely see any fighting whatsoever.

WestRiverrat's avatar

You should go to a college hockey game. There is less fighting and I think the play is better. They don’t let the kids fight as much as the pros.

faye's avatar

Interesting timing, on a talk radio show today, people were talking about hockey players who were hired because they’re tough, and said you can watch the owners, coaches, whoever order up a fight. You certainly see the refs just stand back for too long if it wasn’t supposed to happen. I’ve been to our city’s hockey games- junior hockey- and they don’t fight. I think Sidney Crosby is a little annoyed about the let fights happen rule.

laureth's avatar

@talljasperman – what @Seelix said. Hockey is also a game of skill, finesse, and fast action. It’s more than just fighting, just like it’s more than just speed and finesse.

If your favorite breakfast is eggs and toast, why not just have toast then? Because you like eggs. Why not just have eggs, then? Because you like toast.

Seelix's avatar

@Rarebear – Hockey players are penalized for fighting, as I said above. If you mean that they should be penalized in that they should have to pay fines, that’s another story. But you can’t compare hockey to baseball and basketball, because hockey is a contact sport.

Rarebear's avatar

@Seelix I remember one commercial for MLB where they showed violent collisions between runners and catchers. This went on for about 30 seconds and the caption was, “Who said baseball isn’t a contact sport!”

camertron's avatar

Thanks for all the answers you guys! It’s always great to have both sides of an argument offer their opinions like this. Through talking to my roommate (a definite hockey fan) and reading your responses, I don’t have quite the aversion to hockey that I did before. I still don’t think fighting is necessary or even sportsmanlike, but there’s no denying that many fans really like it, so I suppose it’s got to stay.

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