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?