The full interview with Jay Baruchel can be found here at Wired.com. The interviewer Curtis Silver (a.k.a. GeedDad) is an obvious supporter of fighting so you won’t find any controversy or differing opinions in the piece. Therefore I’ll take on the role of providing the other side of the argument, admittedly somewhat biased.
From the preamble, where GeekDad sets the stage for the interview:
More often you hear fighting supporters denying that fighting has anything to do with concussions. Whenever a medical panel publicly dumps on the NHL and NHLPA for not banning fighting because of head trauma concerns, the pro-fighting fans point out that no one gets hurt in a fight. They point to the size and speed of the players and the “lack of respect” for the rash of concussions. Perhaps GeekDad sees dropping the gloves as some magical skill – no one involved gets concussed and the heads of all the skaters in the building are somehow safer. Amazing.
GeekDad: So as to the escalating and changing state of violence in hockey, to me losing the enforcer role has been nothing but detrimental to the game. I think part of the problem is that the enforcer is not the guy on the poster, he’s not the leading scorer or first star. He’s the guy putting blood and teeth on the ice for his team. Yet, as we move forward in the sport, fighting is taking a back seat to pure violence. What do you see as ‘going too far’?
Baruchel: To me there’s a f*****g Grand Canyon-sized difference between two boys electing to drop the gloves and go toe to toe against one another and guys pulling cheap shots and f*****g elbowing each other in the head. Nobody drops their gloves in hockey that doesn’t want to fight. That being said, far too many guys get taken advantage of, get speared in the back, and f*****g boarded or cross-checked from behind or the subjects of big open ice hits and sneaky elbows to the head. That s**t is a completely one-sided affair.
Fighting increases violence on the ice. Players know that they can be attacked at any time by another player because the league tolerates it. Therefore it’s expected and they prepare for it. When fighting was at its peak in the late 70’s and 80’s the league was full of stick swinging, slashing, spearing and flying elbows. Multiple goons on every team didn’t control the violence, they contributed to it.
Here’s a great comment from Iain Fyffe, long time hockey analyst and historical researcher, and author at hockeyprospectus.com:
“I've got a simple counter: violence breeds more violence. There's at least some research to support that claim. Yes, sometimes fights happen in other sports. But they are rare, relative to hockey, and most importantly, they are not pre-planned and teams do not carry players specifically to break the rules. So hockey, which apparently has fighting to keep the violence down, has more violence than sports which have no fighting. This seems incongruous.”
GeekDad: So fighting basically keeps most of this stuff from happening?
Baruchel: When guys fight, both agree about what they are about to do. To me, there’s a bit of a schism in the hockey community, within the game, fans and writers, whether or not fighting has a place. I was raised firmly to believe that it does, obviously I wouldn’t have written the movie that I did if I didn’t believe that. The age of the enforcer is drawing to a close.
I have to applaud Jay here. He was obviously being baited by GeekDad but didn’t succumb to the temptation and merely offered some truth. He acknowledges that there is division in the game about whether fighting belongs and the age of the enforcer appears to be drawing to a close. Perhaps he’s beginning to understand that it’s not part of the game.
GeekDad: Which of course would mean more injuries.
Baruchel: Absolutely. I am of the opinion that we can trace a direct correlation between the decrease in hockey fights and the increase in concussions and terrible head injuries. I just know that those boys serve, if nothing else, serve as a deterrent and people would be far less likely to try to pull some cheap rat s**t, sneaky fucking s**t, if they knew they had a f*****g Doug Glatt to answer to. So I guess I think concussions in this game are an epidemic as they are in football and obviously after a career of fighting you are going to have some head injuries, but I still think that’s a different thing than all that Raffi Torres crap. I never thought I’d agree with something Brian Burke, GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs had to say, but I did when he put one of the Leafs enforcers (Colton Orr) on waivers going into the postseason, and he gave a speech where he said “you know it’s sad but there’s just no place for pure fighters in the game anymore, and I fear the rats are going to take over the game.” George Laraque (who appeared in the movie) agreed and said that’s exactly right. I think that hockey fighting has purity about it, there’s honesty about and also from a writer’s perspective the fact that one single role, one single job can be so maligned, the fodder for so much discussion between talking heads. I’d go so far as to say, so misunderstood a role, that what’s not interesting to write about there?
So much for understanding.
The argument that enforcers reduce dirty play, with a subsequent positive impact of reducing injuries, is the biggest myth put forward by fighting fans. Enforcers will also aggressively tell you that this is their contribution to the team, keeping their players safe. Perhaps they need to convince themselves of that in order to prepare to do physical harm to other players. Players will also agree, likely because they don’t want to be the one trading punches. But there are no facts or research to back this up. It’s all subjective reasoning that props up a violent culture.
Let’s deal with facts:
- As fighting grew in the mid to late 70’s, PIMs also grew dramatically. As enforcers were added to teams the penalty minutes exploded. Look at the facts as presented in my post – How Did We Get Here.
- Teams that employ enforcers and fight the most are usually less successful than teams that focus on skill. The data that supports this statement was presented by the New York Times in their article – Flying Fists Don’t Add Up To Victories.
- Take a close look at every NHL fight and you might find 10% would fit the “protection” argument but even those would be based on retribution for something that already happened. For the vast majority of fights the goon is sent out to stir something up, take revenge for a clean but hard hit or set the tone for a game by dropping the gloves at the opening face-off. Take a group of games or fights and see for yourself, as I did and reported in my post – What Are We Fighting For Again? Arctic Ice Hockey also published a study, called Goon Ice-time, which showed the enforcer was more likely to be on the ice at the end of a game when their team was being blown out of the building. When your team is down by 3 or 4 goals with two minutes left on the clock, who are you going out to protect?
- Statistically, on average, teams that fight the most will incur more non-fighting PIMs, will finish lower in the standings and have less success in making the playoffs for advancing to the Stanley Cup final. I’ve published statistics to prove these points in Additional Statistics On Impact Of Fighting.
The facts overwhelmingly support the opposite of what the NHL, NHLPA and fight fans believe. So why does this myth and perception persist?
I would agree with Jay that the role of enforcer is misunderstood. The NHL doesn’t apply any logic or research into studying the impact of fighting and therefore does not realize that it may be keeping more fans away from the game versus keeping those fans who are fixated on the violence. The NHLPA doesn’t seem to understand that fighting is causing more injuries and “lack of respect” amongst their members while keeping skilled players out of the game because roster spots are taken up by one-dimensional enforcers. GMs and Coaches seem to lack the understanding that fighting causes more non-fighting PIMs (more time on the penalty kill) and that teams who fight the most are not as successful. The enforcer role is very much misunderstood but with some facts and common sense that could be corrected.
GeekDad: There is this culture that doesn’t seem to give a s**t about the violence and is just getting out of hand. I’m not sure at what level of the game it starts, in the youth league with parents not paying attention or caring – I’ve seen it firsthand at Pop Warner Football for instance. Whereas that stuff is basically assault, fighting is voluntary and relieves the tension of the team. You pull that out and you get more intentional and speared violence.
Baruchel: That’s exactly right, it fosters a culture of cynicism. I think fighting in hockey serves a myriad of roles, not the least of which it gives the boys somewhere to put their aggression. Since the lockout in the NHL they’ve bent over backward to make sure the game was faster and flowed more, but they haven’t done anything to account for it. So basically what you have is a faster game than it’s ever been but the ice is the same size and guys are getting bigger and wearing more and more pads.
Here are two guys lamenting a culture that doesn’t seem to give a shit about violence while supporting fighting and the right of two goons to physically abuse each other. Are they listening to themselves?
For the rest of the interview Jay talks about his film. I expect he knows that the movie he co-wrote is fiction but hopefully he will come to realize that his views on enforcers are also fiction. Goon will likely become a cult film that people watch for years to come while they wonder why hockey put up with such stupidity for so long.
From GeekDad’s summation:
Goon is a movie that is not only the hockey movie for this generation of hockey fans, but is a terribly accurate representation of the stress and conflict of the modern-day hockey enforcer, a role that as Jay pointed out is slowly being phased out of hockey. This is not a good thing. The enforcer knows how to play the game without delivering season-ending cheap shots and injuries to other players. The NHL is focusing on the wrong issue by eliminating fighting within the game: This will not halt the display of errant violence that currently plagues the league; it will only heighten it.
Phasing the enforcer out of hockey is a very good thing. For the most part they do not know how to play the game and are only on the ice to mete out revenge and violence. And to suggest that the NHL is focusing on this issue is laughable. The league tolerates players punching each other in the head while suggesting they are focused on reducing head trauma. If you want to “halt the display of errant violence” then fix the on-ice officiating and disciplinary process. If the NHL and NHLPA agree to properly police the game then there is no need for the players to believe that it’s their responsibility.