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Why Do Hockey Players Fight?

Arron Asham beat up Jay Beagle Thursday night. I enjoyed watching it. You probably did too. And that's the only reason why fighting still exists in ice hockey.

I absolutely love hockey fights. Chances are you do too. And on Thursday night, when Arron Asham of the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the living teeth out of Washington Capitals forward Jay Beagle, I absolutely loved it. Chances are you did too. 

That's precisely why there's still fighting in hockey. That reason, and that reason alone.

Let's not sit here and pretend any longer that there's any sense to fighting in hockey. There's a laundry list of reasons that's always thrown out as to why hockey players fight, and that same list of reasons is co-opted as to why we can't take fighting out of the game.

In no particular order: Fighting holds players accountable for their actions, it protects star players, it gets your team excited and can give them a momentum boost, and it intimidates the other team and allows more room for skilled players to work their magic.

Thursday night, as the morality police came out in full force on Twitter in the aftermath of the fight -- really, before Beagle even got up off the ice -- I sat there running through those reasons. Why would Beagle, a guy with just a single NHL preseason fight before last night, drop the gloves with Asham, an experienced NHL fighter who's taken on the toughest the sport has to offer? 

Why did I just enjoy that fight so much? 

In fact, I wrote an entire column this morning outlining why the fight took place in a hockey context, trying to answer those questions for myself. Then, I read it over and said to myself, "Wait a second, this is all bullshit."

It appears as though Asham was probably thinking of that whole "accountability" farce. Beagle had gotten into it with Kris Letang just prior, and was actually on his way to the penalty box on a delayed call for roughing as the fight occurred. Asham stepped up to protect Letang, even though Letang didn't need any protecting since a) Beagle isn't a tough guy and b) Letang was the one initiating the engagement.

This fight wasn't enjoyable because it was about accountability or some insane reading of The Code, especially because when you hold that reasoning up to the light, it doesn't even come close to passing the smell test. It wasn't enjoyable because it gave the Penguins a momentum boost or because it had any impact on the outcome of the actual hockey game. 

It was enjoyable because it was a hockey fight. Two guys throwing their fists at one another. People enjoy watching that sort of thing.

And sometimes, when people throw their fists at one another, one person gets the short end of the stick. It's a fight. Usually they're much more even than that affair was last night, but there's always the chance that one participant is going to get absolutely clobbered. Beagle knows that rather well now.

There really is no place in the game for this sort of thing. Most fights do not end in serious injury, and even after taking that pounding on Thursday night, Beagle will turn out just fine. But there's always the risk of serious injury, and for matters that really have no impact on the game, it's an unnecessary risk to keep in the game. It's barbaric, really.

At the same time, though, I'm not going to feel bad for Jay Beagle. The man made a decision to fight Arron Asham last night and probably should've known better. He could have said no and not a single soul would've thought any less of him. After all, that was quite the mismatch, wasn't it?

Instead, he obliged. He paid the price for that and Asham shouldn't feel bad at all. You're in fights to win them, right? Let's not blame the game for that. But let's also stop blaming the game for the reasons why fighting still exists inside of it. Fights do not impact the outcome of a hockey game. They do not protect skilled hockey players. If you believe they do, try proving it. It's a farce. 

Fighting exists in hockey because we enjoy watching people fight, and I'm not going to pretend anymore that I'm above that basic human reaction. You shouldn't either.

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