Hockey star Jerome Iginla said fighting in hockey is healthy for the sport because it prevents cheap shots, protects players from injuries, and allows players to police the game better.
Iginla, the longtime Calgary Flames player who now plays for the Boston Bruins, qualified his remarks by saying he does not know “of any player who truly loves fighting. Ideally it would not be a part of the game. But the nature of our sport is such that fighting actually curtails many dirty plays that could result in injuries”:
Fighting helps hold players accountable for their actions on the ice, even more so than penalties. If it was taken out of the game, I believe there would be more illegal stickwork, most of it done out of sight of the referees; more slashes to the ankles or wrists, and in between pads; and more cross checks to the tailbone. Incidents of players taking such liberties are rare in today’s game because fighting gives us the ability to hold each other accountable. If you play dirty, you’re going to have to answer for it.
He said because “hockey is much faster than” the other major sports and “is played with big sticks and a heavy puck that can travel at speeds in excess of 90 miles an hour,” it “is impossible for two referees, or even three, to keep track of everything that happens on the ice”:
One misconception about fighting is that it is for entertainment, a spectacle for the fans. But most hockey players do not see themselves as boxers or fighters. We would all rather be scoring a goal — or preventing one! While I agree that fighting has entertainment value and is enjoyed by many fans, there is a lot more to it than that. There is a purpose behind almost every fight. I have fought — and my teammates have, too — to stick up for myself or to stand up for a teammate who had been the victim of dirty play. And I do acknowledge that fighting can provide an emotional lift for a team. A player who drops his gloves and puts himself in harm’s way on behalf of his teammates is selfless and courageous. And those are qualities that all hockey players respect.
As NHL discusses the future of fighting in the sports, Iginla said it was his opinion that “fighting prevents more injuries than it causes. And with the high caliber of officials in the NHL, it very rarely results in significant injuries; the referees step in quickly to help minimize that risk.”
“The game of hockey is special. Its blend of physical play, intensity and emotion is what makes players such as myself love it,” he said. “But I think it is important to realize that fighting plays a role in — and enhances — all of those aspects. Would hockey still be a good game without fighting? Yes, I think so. But it is great game with it!”