Remember the old joke: I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out? It was never funny, but it was useful in highlighting how commonly accepted fighting is in professional hockey in America. Wikipedia even has an entry for "Fighting in ice hockey" that starts with a clarification: "This article is about condoned fighting in ice hockey. For disallowed violent acts, see 'Violence in ice hockey.'"
The Allen Americans began play this year as the Dallas Stars affiliate in the Central Hockey League. I attended a game in December in the new Allen Event Center. The price was right, the venue was fan-friendly, the game was competitive, finally decided by a shootout. No fights broke out and I didn't feel short-changed, but maybe more enthusiastic hockey fans did.
I understand that hockey is a physical game, that teams employ "enforcers" to deter opponents, that tempers sometimes flare, that fans love the fights that sometimes break out. But I still somehow maintained a belief that fighting is an unfortunate side effect and not an actually desired part of the game. I can't maintain that fiction any more after reading an interview in The Dallas Morning News Briefing with Allen Americans' "fan favorite" Britt Dougherty. I now have to wonder if professional hockey is closer to professional wrestling than it is to a legitimate sporting event.
DMN: Why is there a place for fighting in hockey?
Britt Dougherty: There are a number of reasons. The first is probably the entertainment of it. Everybody likes to see two guys punch each other in the face.
DMN: So the penalty box is not much of a deterrent?
Britt Dougherty: A lot of my job is to serve time in the penalty box.
DMN: What do you guys say to each other before you fight?
Britt Dougherty: Sometimes, there are no words said. We just look at each other and nod, and then you go. Other times, it's just "You want to fight?" I'm not mad. I can't remember the last time I fought when I was mad.
It's understandable that the daily grind of a long professional sports season might make it difficult for players to get up for each and every game. You understand if in some games they are just going through the motions, earning a paycheck. But when even the fights are more about punching the clock than punching each other, you have to wonder whether you are watching a sport or a staged drama, with fights as set pieces to arouse the audience when attention is waning. I'll pay to attend sport. I'll pay to attend staged drama. But I won't pay to attend staged sport. I'm not much of a hockey fan in any case, but I'm feeling even less urge now to make the drive up to Allen to watch the Allen Americans again.