Sucker Punch – Fighting Off the Ice


May 4, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins fans pass around a large flag before the start of game two of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

He never saw it coming. Watching the game through an old-school Jason mask, Kyle forgot that he was in enemy waters. His Leafs jersey set him apart from the start, but the jeers faded into the white noise as he focused on the game. The Leafs were up 4-2 in the third, and it was beginning to look like a great 24th birthday. Unfortunately for Kyle, he wasn’t fated to remember this particular birthday.  Before you jump to any conclusions, alcohol may have been a factor but was not responsible for the mind-blank that followed. A sullen fan decided to vent his rage upon a defenseless opponent by way of an overhand right (or left…does it even matter?). Kyle awoke on the concrete, blood seeping from a wound to the back of his head. Two sutures and a hefty hospital bill later, Kyle begins his recovery but the symptoms linger. Headaches, nausea, loss of equilibrium, and mood swings are all possible, but there are other residual effects as well. Alertness taken too far becomes anxiety. Kyle begins to dwell on the fact that he might not have woken up. Others have not been as lucky.

Fighting is not simply a part of hockey. It is a part of life. These types of injuries (assaults if you would care to be so bold) happen all too often, and not just in TD Garden or Dodgers Stadium. Fights happen at Little League games, at swim meets, at Justin Timberlake concerts, and in countless bars. They happen on roadways, at racetracks, and even *gasp* recess. Yes, that means your kids are fighting. You may not always hear about it through your school, but the average child will find themselves in conflict at some point before graduating. Upon entering college, one would think that juvenile fisticuffs would cease, as students of higher learning have little time to anything except study? Wait…not study…what word was I looking for again? Oh, yes,DRINK.

I’m not going to go into the evils of alcohol, as I’m sure all of you have already heard the schpeel before, but I will say that it lowers the threshold for throwing hands. It seems like a simple point, but a lot of people have a hard time realizing this. Not when they are sober of course, but in the midst of a blackout, certainly.  No one is at the controls, so all bystanders can is stand by and watch as the destructive subconscious spills forth in a flurry of senseless violence.  Whether he was alert, calculating, drunken or belligerent, he is responsible for his actions. He may not ever be brought to justice, as his cowardly flight from the arena prevented his detainment. Now I am not trying to call out all Bruins fans as brutes or bullies. I will not generalize against ANY fan-base. Individuals are to blame, not the team.That being said, when I googled fights in the stands, the first three results involved the Bruins. Searching more deeply, I can find fights such as this in almost every arena, even the Consol.

The whole of humanity faces this issue too often, and we fail to realize its significance. Why is this?

Because we like to watch a fight. We are wired genetically to be excited by voyeuristic displays of aggression. Two thousand years ago in Rome, gladiators fought to the death in front of an arena of screaming fans. We still have the stadiums and the fans, but we have implemented rules and regulations to reduce the potential for death. We are treated to a sport, a controlled environment where athletes can express themselves without risking their lives…for the most part. Death is still a part of the game. It might not be the quick death which results from a gladius to the throat, but countless concussions can render a middle-aged man powerless. Reduced cognition, resulting in depression, ending in substance abuse or suicide. Football and Hockey bear the greatest number of these cases, but the two sports are not alone. Baseball has looked into changing the rules at home to protect catchers. I think we should protect everyone from concussions, not just the players.

A referee in a youth soccer game was recently hit by a single punch from a disgruntled player. His brain began to bleed and was soon in a coma. He died a few days later. No one deserves such a death – no matter what was done to antagonize. The player who threw the punch will have to deal with the consequences of letting his anger get away from him. His life will forever be changed, but we as a society are still the same. We are technologically savvy, but ignorant of our interactions. We claim to be the height of civilization, but we are far from civilized. We do not like to think of ourselves as non-empathetic, but oftentimes we care only to a certain point. Beyond the bounds of who-I-know, compassion trails off. If we cease to care, allowing cynicism to be compounded by inaction, and we are doomed to cowardice. We must not let our guard down, but we cannot allow ourselves to become callous. De-escalation is always the desired strategy, but if conflict is unavoidable, careful application of force is preferable to blind punches. Grappling is a dangerous proposition if facing multiple opponents, but is immensely useful when applied correctly. All it takes is one punch to bring on a life’s worth of regret. Don’t do it.