For some reason, we have become a society based on overreaction. If something happens once, no matter how much of a fluke the incident was, we must eliminate any possibility of it happening again.
Unfortunately, this thinking has permeated the hockey world in recent years. There was one tragic incident of a fan dying from a misdiagnosis of an injury caused by a puck, and even though it was actually the doctor's misdiagnosis -- and not a severe injury -- that led to the death, the NHL reacted by putting up obtrusive safety netting.
Several arenas go through significant security measures such as metal detectors or wanding, despite the fact there has been absolutely no evidence there is a threat of any kind towards an NHL arena.
And recently, we have the renewed cry to outlaw fighting from the NHL after Todd Fedoruk was knocked out by Colton Orr in a late season fight. Fedoruk was taken off the ice by stretcher after being knocked out and is believed to have suffered a concussion.
Further tests were been negative and Fedoruk is expected to be back to normal before long, if not already.
Unfortunately, it is in question whether the game can say the same thing. Several members of the hockey media have questioned whether the time has come to ban fighting, but that is easy to overlook. After all, opinions are like noses -- or something like that -- everyone has one, and the media makes a living from giving their thoughts on the issues of the day.
Yet when league disciplinarian Colin Campbell weighs in with his opinion that it is time to examine whether fisticuffs should remain part of the game, it is time to get concerned. Campbell is a former player who dropped the gloves from time to time in his day, yet his comments Thursday may signal a shift in the game's attitude towards fighting.
That is unfortunate. When it comes down to it, virtually all players favor the existence of fighting in hockey. In response to Campbell's comments, Jeremy Roenick told the Canadian Press he felt the game could lose fans if fighting was banned. He also expressed concern about the lack of respect in the game today and said that would be magnified if fighting was eliminated.
Roenick is right. He has obviously seen an NCAA game, where fighting is banned. There is much to enjoy about NCAA hockey -- the game is often fast-paced, there are some good hits, and the student sections create an energetic environment.
There is also much to dislike about NCAA hockey, and it all stems from the lack of fighting. With no fear of retribution, dangerous plays are common in college hockey. I have witnessed vicious cross-checks to the neck, dangerous checks from behind, and even one incident of a player kicking with his skate blade towards another player's neck. For the last incident, the player received a one-game suspension -- the same suspension a player receives for a fighting major in the WCHA
Given the choice, most people would choose a punch to the face over a skate blade to the neck. The lack of respect in college hockey is a rampant problem, one that has prompted various college hockey executives to lament the lack of fighting at that level over the years.
It really is true -- the players police themselves. For those who say the answer is increasing the suspensions for other incidents, the league has done that. Chris Simon received a severe 25-game suspension for his stick to the face of Ryan Hollweg, even though Hollweg had just checked Simon from behind in a dangerous manner. Jordin Tootoo received a five game suspension for a roundhouse punch -- often being incorrectly reported as a sucker punch -- on Stephane Robidas in Nashville late in the regular season.
The Tootoo case provides an interesting case study. Tootoo had checked Dallas superstar Mike Modano and was preparing to face the wrath of Robidas seconds later. Tootoo turned towards Robidas and gave him a roundhouse punch with the gloves still on, giving Robidas a concussion.
Interestingly, Robidas and Fedoruk suffered almost the identical injury, and the scene looked almost the same. Tootoo was given a five-game suspension, despite the fact he would have been unlikely to get more than two minutes for roughing if Robidas had not been knocked out.
The concussion to Robidas still would have occurred whether fighting was in the game or not. Simon still would have received a concussion from the check from behind whether fighting was in the game or not. Hollweg still would have been hit with Simon's stick whether fighting was in the game or not -- although many believe it would not have happened if the instigator rule did not exist.
There are many who say fighting must be eliminated before a player is killed. Is it possible, at some level, a player will be killed in a fight? Sure. It is also possible a player will be killed by a check from behind, a skate blade, a puck to the head, an on-ice heart attack, or hitting their head on the ice after a clean check.
The last one happened to Bill Masterton of the Minnesota North Stars in the late 1960s. Eventually, helmets became widespread around the league largely as a result of the incident, yet the potential is always there, with or without a helmet.
Is it possible a player of another sport will die in action? Absolutely. According to ESPN.com, 23 football players died during a game in 2001. A year later, 15 died, including 5 who died directly from on-field head injuries. At the professional level, Al Lucas of the Arena Football League's Los Angeles Avengers died on the field following a spinal cord injury in a 2005 game at Staples Center.
In other words, the threat of death is always looming over everyone. Whether it is driving on the freeway, playing hockey or football, or drowning in the ocean, everything in life has risks.
That is not to say sports should not take steps to minimize the risk of serious injury or death. To this point, nobody has been killed in an NHL fight, and to be honest, I am far more concerned about someone being killed or paralyzed on a check from behind than I am about someone being killed or paralyzed in a fair fight.
To eliminate fighting will just increase the chances of a serious incident occurring -- a nasty check from behind, a player kicking another player, a player hitting an opponent over the head with his stick. Fighting must stay part of the game in order for the players to police themselves.
Hopefully, once the hysteria over the Fedoruk fight calms down -- if it has not already -- the NHL will see it the same way.