If you’ve ever been to a live NHL game, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen two players fight. In what is one of professional sports’ most antiquated traditions, fighting is still somewhat allowed in the NHL to a point. This contrasts with other sports, such as the NFL, that crackdown on fighting with much harsher penalties.
So what’s the reason for the discrepancy? In an era where players are more policed than ever for their on-field/court/ice conduct, why is it that the NHL has allowed its players to skate on major consequences for fighting?
The rules of fighting in the NHL
According to USA Today, fighting is still allowed in the NHL. Players do receive time in the penalty box for it, but the referees typically allow them to spar for a short period before breaking up the fight.
Commissioner Gary Bettman frequently is non-committal about banning the practice, with his repeated answer being that there’s no tie between head trauma one can get from being in a fight and CTE.
Where Bettman’s explanation comes up lacking, however, is that he hasn’t argued for a good reason to continue including fighting in the sport.
NHL Hall of Famer Ken Dryden has argued that fighting is just as dangerous as any other aspect of the sport such as high sticking or blindside cheap hits.
“What we’ve come to understand better, with the force and the frequency of the collisions now, is that the dangerous instrument is not the stick or the elbow, it’s the body as a whole. So you don’t call a penalty for a stick or an elbow and not call one for a shoulder or a fist.”
There’s no question that allowing fights to continually occur adds an element of risk to the game that wouldn’t be there without them. Whether the sport’s highest officials contend that it’s dangerous or not, they can’t seem to identify a positive reason why it still happens.
Why the NHL allows fighting
RELATED: 20 Craziest Fights in NHL History
There’s no real existing explanation as to why the NHL hasn’t taken a harder line against fighting. One potential explanation is that it’s one of the traditions of the sport that the “old guard” doesn’t necessarily want to do away with. In an era where sports are being modernized faster and faster every day, hockey fights harken back to the past.
It’s might also be about the perception of toughness in the sport. Hockey players fancy themselves as durable, tough athletes. Who’s going to be the first one to speak out against a barbaric practice like fighting? They might be afraid of being perceived as less tough than their colleagues.
Recent NFL fights that have received consequences
You aren’t likely to see as many fights in the NFL. There have been fights and brawls throughout the sport’s history, though there are fewer today than ever. USA Today highlighted some of the sport’s worst after last year’s fight between the Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mason Rudolph.
Other relatively recent fights include Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan and Andre Haynesworth stomping Andre Gurode in the head. Both fights received significant punishment. It’s unclear when the NHL might move against fighting, but if other sports are any indication, the practice’s days are numbered.