Tony Stewart, the driver seen above trying to land a punch on the kisser of Joey Logano, has an innovative idea for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

If NASCAR wants to let the guys have at it, it shouldn’t be any different than hockey. Let us have at it and when one guy goes to the ground, it’s over.

It’s an absurd notion, but a useful one. While Stewart’s reference to hockey has to do with the sense of honor among enforcers which dictates that once a player becomes vulnerable to fistfuls of punishment on the ice, he can no longer be considered a target for such, it’s also applicable to the most often used argument for the sport’s continued acceptance of punch-fighting occurring mid-game.

The pro-fighting contention goes something like this: Hockey is an intrinsically violent sport. Take away the fighting, and hockey remains violent. In fact, it becomes more violent because instead of two willing combatants settling disagreements through a punch-fight, hockey sticks and skate blades will increasingly be used as tools with which to demonstrate aggression among the hyper-competitive athletes whose speed in a confined space renders them incapable of self-control. In other words, fighting in hockey is a restrictor plate. It limits on-ice confrontations to a lesser evil, offering an outlet for anger that might otherwise be expressed through more dangerous means.

NASCAR, the governing body of a far more dangerous sport than hockey, is the swift and definitive counter-argument to this opinion. Auto-racing is no less competitive than hockey, and the tools with which one competitor might inflict violence upon another have a far greater potential to inflict damage.

Yet, the idea of using punch-fights as a deterrent against crueler acts of vengeance on the race course is unnecessary and seems absurd to even consider. Allowing the manifestation of such a ridiculous  notion would push the sport back into the niche territory from where it escaped.

The only thing protecting hockey from such a fate is the tradition backing on-ice fisticuffs. At some point, before the widespread availability of information pertaining to head trauma and concussions, maybe punches were the only alternative to stick-swinging hack attacks.

However, athletes are made increasingly aware of the impact of their actions on the ice, so much so that the greater evil from which fighting is supposed to protect shouldn’t exist as a legitimate alternative at all. If it does, it represents a failure on the part of the league and the players association to properly educate the athletes that it governs and is supposed to protect.

The popular stereotype suggests that NASCAR competitors are little more than uneducated hillbillies. However, purposeful violence on the race course – though it might seep through the cracks from time to time – is something that the generally agreed to code of conduct between racers doesn’t allow.

For all of the talk of unwritten codes and honor among enforcers in hockey, why can’t they agree to exert self-control in their actions? Why is it possible for an on-ice punch-fighter to stop himself from hitting a downed opponent in the throes of a physical confrontation, but absolutely naive to imagine that same sense of self-control could govern play as a whole?

It’s a ridiculous contradiction, as out of place as occurrences of accepted amateur fist-fights in the midst of a professional sport taking place. NASCAR recognizes this, why can’t the NHL?

Comments (8)

  1. I hadn’t really thought about it in these terms, but auto racing is a good comparison for the sake of this argument. The strangest thing to me are the people who lose their mind over an amateur bare-knuckles boxing match on the ice. How would these people react to watching a real fight? They’d fucking lose it.

  2. The thing with hockey fights that I have never gotten is the zeal people take to protect the vigilantism that the players exhibit. Rather than utilize and actually enforce rules to protect players, the league allows a wild west tar and feather justice system. Currently, NHL suspensions are a joke. A player will receive a few games for smashing their elbow into another player’s face.

    Raffi – the children singer – had a great interview where he comments on the absurdity of hockey referees actively changing how they officiate in a playoff game.. You have to allow for playoff hockey! The argument used most is players should decide the game themselves.. If players decide to play dirty and put others at risk, they should be penalized and suspended regardless of calendar date. That’s how they decided to play.

    It’s not just what NASCAR can teach hockey, it’s what civilization over the last few thousand years can teach hockey. It’s embarrassing that the so called “red-neck” sport has this figured out. Fights will stop when the NHL decides that the league – and not the players – should be the power offering protection. Hang ‘em high.

    • Well said. In order for fighting to leave the sport, the league has to own discipline, and not allow it to be decided and doled out on the ice by goons whose careers are defined by the amount of time they spend in the penalty box. As long as the consequence of an illegal play (like slashing the goalie or hitting from behind) or even of a legal play (like a very hard, clean hit on an opposing star player) are tantamount to a slap on the wrist by the league, there will be a need for the enforcer and the fights in hockey.

      Football is also an apt comparison: very violent, opportunities for serious injury, etc. But when a quarterback is hit hard, helmet-to-helmet, the penalty during the game is severe, but the penalty to the offender is also considerable: Sometimes as much as 10-20% of the season (and corresponding salary) is the consequence. As a result: no need for fights in the NFL. The league may have taken time to get to this point, but they should be lauded for actually doing something about it, for being the bearer of punishment and discipline, and thereby preventing cowboy justice from ensuing the way it does in the NHL.

      • Thanks a lot.

        The NFL for sure is going the right way, and both the NHL and MLB (with regards to intentional beanballs) should follow suit.

  3. Dustin, are you suggesting that since NASCAR doesn’t allow fighting, the NHL shouldn’t either? I really don’t see how the two sports have anything to do with each other…

    I don’t consider myself pro fighting in hockey in any way, but sometimes I hear “arguments” against fighting that are as ridiculous as the arguments against fighting. If the league is solely responsible for player safety, then why not be like the NCAA and make full face shields mandatory? No more fighting, no more sticks in the face, everyone’s happy right? Unfortunately it’s obviously not that simple, because I would guess 98% of NHL players would vote against that.

    I think the solution is a greater penalty for fighting (say, game misconduct? or game misconduct and a game suspension) but not to remove it altogether. Not totally eliminated, but there would have to be a good reason for a player to engage in a fight.

    And btw, if we’re making comparisons to other sports, why not compare the NHL to the sport that is clearly the closest related? (spoiler…it’s lacrosse)

  4. Good job once again. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *