A Search for Ethical Consciousness in Sports: Fighting in Hockey

[For my first shot at a short series of related posts, I am going to look at the ethical challenges to being a sports fan in Western culture, specifically a fan of the Vancouver Canucks]

I do not hide the fact (see last sentence) that I am a big fan of hockey, and the Vancouver Canucks in particular.  However, like nearly everything that I engage in, there are ethical questions raised both by playing hockey (which I do little of) and by spending time and money following the sport and cheering for teams.  Such problems are hard not to notice when I spend around 100 evenings a year (regular season, playoffs, WJC, etc.) watching the game and at the same time am ‘formally’ a student of philosophy.

The biggest issue is fighting – this is one that even mainstream media feels to be unnecessary, and due to the unconvincing answers that the NHL elite generally trot out – ‘it’s just part of the game’ – I am not surprised that people outside of the ‘establishment’ cannot figure out exactly why the sport allows (pessimists might say condones) members of opposing teams to square off and throw a few punches, to the immense joy of all the fans inevitably cheering in the stands.  The fact (if it is a fact) that there have been relatively few major injuries resulting from on-ice fights is hardly an excuse.  Far greater damage is being done by inculcating an ethos of violence into the game that is considered this country’s heritage, and is being played around the world by children whose idols also clearly condone the fighting that they or their teammates engage in.

And so, the perennial question, as it will be in all of these posts, is: what to do?  I played out the scene in my head recently of giving up my interest in hockey, and suffice to say I didn’t get too far.  While I could do it (I think deciding to become vegetarian permanently was and is harder), I don’t know if that’s the answer.  Not that it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do in this case, but because of the consequences of such an approach if taken to their logical conclusion, I am hesitant to abandon hockey because I disapprove of fighting.  As I hinted at above, I think that I could find something ethically questionable in almost every activity I engage in.  If that truly leads you to the conclusion that the right response is to disengage from all those activities, then maybe I would have to respond that I am simply not at a point in my life where I can say I am willing to do that.  There is also the aspect of trying to influence change from within, and though the only future where I see myself having a career in the hockey industry is a fantasy-based one, by watching hockey all the time I am bound to find myself around other hockey fans, and the topic of fighting may come up regularly.  It is a major change, but that doesn’t mean that fighting couldn’t be abolished in the course of a generation or two.  I will leave the positive reasons for why I am a hockey fan for another post, but suffice it to say for now that my ideological concerns with fighting being condoned on the grand scale that it once was in the Coliseum are not enough, on their own, to persuade me to stop following the sport.

Stay tuned, it might turn out that the confluence of all the ethically problematic things that I can find about the sport are enough to get me to reconsider the investment of my time, money, and emotional state in a group of athletes.

 

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6 thoughts on “A Search for Ethical Consciousness in Sports: Fighting in Hockey

  1. question: does the offical governing body ever debate this issue?

    on the one hand you have canucks doing amazing acts of public service in the community, being role models, and encouraging kids to dream big and all kinds of positive stuff…

    and on the other hand you have these same role models glorifying fighting – what message does that leave generations of young boys with… I get frustrated out there, and I punch whoever frustrates me… hmmm…. might be a problem with that approach.

    don’t the folks setting policy in this world feel they have any responsibility to the public who support them?

  2. Answer: who really knows? What we do know is that no one is reporting anything near a lively debate on this issue. The violence that is actively being toned down is hits to the head, which have risen in frequency and damage to the victim in recent years, and led to an almost unprecedented mid-season rule change last year, and may eventually see a blanket ban (i.e. any hit to the head will be assessed an automatic penalty). I can’t really foresee the day where the hot-button issue is getting rid of fighting completely, though.

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