In Their Own Words: Sports Illustrated Talks to NHL Enforcers

The latest issue of Sports Illustrated has a fascinating and disturbing article by Austin Murphy about fighting and fighters in the NHL. The article is notable for its extensive interview excerpts, including statements from current or former enforcers George Parros, Tony Twist, Shawn Thornton, Todd Fedoruk, Lyndon Byers, Kelly Chase, and Jim McKenzie. I fully suggest reading the full article, as it includes not only lengthy excerpts from interviews but also some insightful commentary from Austin Murphy, but after the jump I present some very revealing excerpts from the interviews.

One of the mind-boggling things to me is that fighting is so widely accepted as a way to prevent star players from getting injured through cheap hits or illegal stick-work. What a brilliant system for the NHL, which has to take virtually no accountability for the safety of its players or, y’know, actually enforce its own rules of play. If the league were to combine a more severe punishment of fighting with a much, much stricter system of penalizing, suspending, and fining players for dangerous and illegal play – to actually create disincentives for players to engage in dangerous play – it’s hard to see how this would not create a significant and progressive culture shift in professional hockey.

Currently, as some of the interviews excerpts reveal, players have a strong incentive to fight because they are rewarded for it. Fighting becomes an acceptable means to achieve the dream of playing NHL hockey, regardless of the physical and mental toll it takes on both the individual player and countless others in the professional and minor hockey ranks – including the many scrappers whose NHL dreams are never realized. Furthermore, once socialized into the role of enforcer, some players clearly revel in the glory of the role, embrace the aggressive masculine image that is associated with the practice, and do whatever it takes to cling to this position.

After the jump, I present excerpts from the Sports Illustrated interviews because, I believe, they reveal a great deal about the motivations for becoming a fighter; the physical toll that this role entails; the self-policed norms of “the Code”; and the effects of a league that is too cowardly to enact or enforce rules to curb the damaging effects of on-ice violence. But enough of my own commentary, let’s hear it in fighters’ own words:

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