Let me start by saying that I love aggression in sports. Nothing is better than a big hit in a football game or a hard slide in a soccer match. I do, however, hate fighting in sports. All of it is fake––every fight you see in a National Hockey League game was manufactured to draw in viewers. There is a reason why the majority of hockey fights occur at the end of games where a win is already out of reach for the losing team.
In the Rochester Americans––the American Hockey League affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres––opening game against the Adirondack Flames––Calgary Flames affiliate in the AHL––on Oct. 10, the Amerks were up 6-1 with just a couple minutes left. At that point, every player on the ice save the goaltenders started punching each other.
I’m not saying the frustration was not real—there had been plenty of skirmishes the entire game. The fight, however, would not have happened if the AHL and parent NHL did not endorse fighting. Fighting is a sideshow that does not impact the game at all. The only result of the fight was that Flames left wing Trevor Gillies was suspended for 12 games.
Although hockey is the worst offender, it is certainly not the only one. On Sunday Nov. 2, NASCAR drivers Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski bumped and Gordon spun out, costing him the race. After the race was over, Gordon walked over the Keselowski’s car to yell at him. As they were talking, things got a little bit weird.
At this point, no punches between Gordon and Keselowski had been thrown; though both crews were pushing and shoving each other. This all changed when fellow driver Kevin Harvick walked up behind Keselowski and pushed him toward Gordon. That started a full-on fight between Gordon and Keselowski.
In a post-race segment with ESPN, driver Carl Edwards––who was not involved in the fight––talked about Harvick’s involvement.
“That’s really strange,” he said. “I don’t know what that was about.” I personally think Harvick may have been provoking a fight to get NASCAR some more airtime. They are currently in their playoffs and could still use any ratings boost they can get.
Ignoring Harvick’s intent, the fight was the top story on ESPN.com just hours after it happened. This becomes even more meaningful considering two of the top teams in the National Football League, the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, also played that day.
Although fans may gravitate toward fighting, it hurts the overall product that leagues are trying to produce. This is clear after comparing the television ratings for the Stanley Cup Final and the Olympic gold medal games. The highest-rated Stanley Cup game ever was game seven between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins in 2011––8.5 million people tuned in across the United States and Canada.
For the men’s ice hockey gold medal game in the 2014 Winter Olympics between Canada and Sweden, there were over 15 million Canadians alone tuning in. Even more impressive is that the gold medal game took place at 7 a.m. in cities like Toronto and Montreal and 4 a.m. in Vancouver.
Fighting should be taken out of sports. Obviously, there are times when tensions boil over and players will throw punches. The institutionalization of fighting, however, needs to be eliminated altogether.