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NHL Needs To Be Prepared To Deal With All Consequences Of Fighting

Seemingly anyone with the deepest of interest or even a tepid curiosity in the National Hockey League stands on one side or the other about one of the game's major issues: Should there be fighting in hockey?

Get this --- no matter how we, as consumers, feel about it, it really doesn't make much of a difference.

Honestly, it doesn't mean a hill of beans how Joe Penguins Fan, Jean-Jacques Maple Leafs Fan or, well, if there were any Coyotes fans, feel about the issue.

This is all about the players and the owners.

If they wanted fighting out of the game, they could have pushed it out of the NHL in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement that saw the game locked out for 113 days.

But they didn't. The players, the owners, and the powers-that-be collectively want fighting in the sport. So, quite obviously, they feel it has a place.

Your sport, your decision.

As for me, and this view is probably in the gross minority, but there's no strong opinion on fighting emanating here. For me, it just keeps coming back to that fundamental point: It is their sport, they can decide what's best for the health of the game.

But, there is certainly one caveat that we'll get to at the end of this column.

Those in favor of fighting are quick to point out it is hockey's cultural vestige, but that the practical application is also that brawling protects the game's superstars --- proactively --- from the stick work and thuggery that would occur without the fear of a good scrap. The hulks on their icy patrol instill fear so that the truly skilled don't have to live in profound fear.

Fair point.

Those who want fighting out of the game quickly point to the threat of head injuries that come with such a pugilistic endeavor and to the line that might, or might not, be drawn between on-ice squaring off and the suicides of former NHL enforcers Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard. In short, you engage in enough on-ice combat situations, punch and get punched in the dome that many times, it breeds a lifestyle that could lead you down a road where you eventually off yourself.

Fair point, as well.

Recently, young Penguins forward Tanner Glass, who fought New York Rangers tough guy Arron Asham off the opening faceoff in a game on Jan. 20, told 93-7 The Fan, "I don't mind [fighting] at all. … Fighting is a part of the game I'm not shy to do. I don't hate it. I kind of enjoy it at times."

As do many fans, this much can't be denied. The decibel level goes up when the gloves go down in NHL arenas all across North America.

Now here's that one caveat mentioned above: The NHL, by virtue of not legislating fighting out the game, better be fully prepared for some things.

When a couple of vast, muscled up six-foot-something, 200-something-pound guys fight on a sheet of ice, at some point logic says there's going to be a bad, bad outcome.

Is the NHL ready for 18,000 people inside the CONSOL Energy Center having to watch a Pittsburgh paramedic give CPR to an unresponsive guy prone after he was walloped by a haymaker and hit the back of his head on that rock-hard ice surface?

You want to fight in hockey, go ahead and fight.

Your sport, your decision.

There isn't a sentiment here for or against, but you better be prepared for a moment such as the one described above for the sake of fighting in the sport.

Worse yet, the day could come when someone leaves CONSOL after losing a fight and their next appointment is with Dr. Cyril Wecht.

Your sport, your decision.

But you better be prepared to deal with all possible aftermaths.

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Other Colin Dunlap Columns

Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured sports columnist for CBS He can be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 "The Fan."

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