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Fights in pro hockey don’t deter greater violence, study finds

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Allowing fights between players in the National Hockey Leagues does not deter more violence in the modern game, according to a new study.

In fact, teams and players who fight more often are also responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent penalties across the league.

The results disprove league officials’ arguments for continuing to fight in the game, said Michael Betz, study author and associate professor of humanities at Ohio State University.

“The issue of fighting is polarizing within the hockey community and for ordinary fans. As a former hockey player and researcher, I wanted to see if the arguments in support of fighting held up,” said Betz, who played goalkeeper as a fellow at Ohio State and briefly as a professional in the ECHL (East Coast Hockey League).

“What I found was that no approach I tried produced any evidence that fighting or even the threat of fighting deters more violent play in the NHL.”

The study is published today in the journal PLUS ONE.

The issue is especially important now with the increased understanding of the consequences of traumatic brain injury, Betz said.

“Fighting increases the risk of TBIs, but is not essential to hockey and removing it would not fundamentally change the sport,” he said.

For the study, Betz examined data on all regular-season penalties from 2010 to 2019. He distinguished penalties into tactical — intended to give a player a strategic advantage — and violent penalties, intended to intimidate an opponent. or to injure. †

Violent penalties included boarding, charging, elbowing, roughing, and major interference penalties. If fighting worked as a deterrent, it should lower the number of these violent penalties that can injure a player, Betz said.

Overall, fights in the NHL declined dramatically during the time of the study — the 2018-19 season had 65% fewer fights per game than the 2010-11 season. Much of that decline is attributed to the league having access to more fast, skilled players and not needing as many players who rely on intimidation.

But if fighting is necessary as a deterrent, then there should have been an increase in violent punishment as the number of fights decreased. But just the opposite happened. While all types of punishment decreased during the study period, violent punishment decreased more than twice as fast as tactical punishment (25% vs. 12%), the study found.

Another team-level analysis also found that fighting did not protect a team’s players from more violent play: in fact, each additional fight a team engaged in was associated with more violent punishments taken against them.

“In any case, the fighting seemed to encourage more violence against teams involved in brawling,” Betz said.

Even within games, the results showed similar patterns. Betz found that the number of violent penalties in a match increased rather than decreased after a fight.

The study also found that a fight between two teams early in a season did not significantly reduce the number of violent penalties in a second match between the teams later that same season.

One possible explanation is that having a top fighter on your team who can take on any opponent in combat reduces the violence against the fighting player’s team. Betz investigated this by looking at the three players who tied for the most fights (6) in the 2018/19 season and one player who had one (5) fewer fights that year.

Whether or not these top fighters were in the lineup had no statistically significant effect on the number of violent penalties their opponents inflicted against their teams, the results showed.

If fighting ever deterred more blatant violence against players, this study shows that’s no longer the case in the modern NHL, Betz said.

“The league may have other reasons for wanting to keep fighting in the game — there’s evidence that more fights increase fan presence at games,” he said.

“But they should just come out and say that and not hide behind the deterrent effect because there is no evidence for that.”

Betz said he is particularly concerned about junior hockey leagues in the United States and Canada, which serve as the primary training ground for players ages 16 to 19 aspiring to play in college and the professional ranks. These junior leagues follow the lead of the NHL and, unlike colleges, allow for fighting.

“These younger players aren’t paid and their developing brains are more vulnerable to traumatic brain injury. The evidence shows that fighting doesn’t protect them from other violence, so there’s a real ethical issue here in keeping the fighting going,” he said. .


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More information:
Tooth for a tooth: Is fighting a deterrent to more violence in the modern NHL, PLoS ONE (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0269889

Provided by Ohio State University


Quote: Fighting in pro hockey no longer deters violence, study finds (2022, June 22) retrieved June 22, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-pro-hockey-dont-deter-greater.html

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