The Double Standard of Fighting Culture in Professionals Sports

The sports world has been essentially turned upside down since March of 2020. League schedules/seasons have been rearranged due to COVID-19. With that being said, it’s pretty safe to say that professional sports are back up and running (with just little or no audience). I saw a clip, from the NFL Bears versus Saints game which depicted Javon Wims and C.J. Gardner-Johnson fist-fighting one another. I clicked on the comments underneath the video (pretty much always a bad idea when it comes to the internet) and was shocked by what I read. These men were referred to as “thugs” and “street” and I even read several comments that attributed the fight to potential gang activity. One important thing to mention is that both of these men are Black. These comments made me think back to the countless hockey brawls I have seen (both in person and via the internet) and why these types of comments never seem to arise. Point blank, I think the reason for this is racism. 

Before I move forward, I know the rules of both of these professional sports. You will not be ejected from an NHL game for fighting, but fighting is technically not allowed and depending on referee discretion, one will serve penalty minutes for fighting. Fighting is against the rules in the NHL. I like the movie Goon just as much as the next person, but I think there is a double standard here worth analyzing.

The NHL is composed of 93% white-identifying players. This is in stark contrast compared to 28% of white players in the NFL and 17.9% of white players in the NBA. Fighting in the NHL is often referred to as “part of the game” (even though there is debate every year about a zero-tolerance fighting policy in the league). Fighting in the NHL is generally accepted or tolerated by players, coaches, fans/spectators, and referees and is likely to happen several times a game. Although there have been instances of fighting in both the NFL and NBA in the past, I can’t help but wonder if every game two Black NBA players threw off their wristbands and starting wailing on each other in the middle of a play, to the point where blood is drawn, that it would be considered “part of the game”. 

There are a lot of moving pieces and questions to this issue, for example: Why are the demographics of certain sports so disproportionate? Why are Black athletes held to higher standards than white athletes? I recommend the book “Out of Left Field: Social Inequality and Sports” by Gamal Abdel-Shehid and Nathan Kalman-Lamb. This book unpacks the relationship between structural inequality and sport. I grew up watching the NHL my entire life, but reading this book really opened by eyes to the nuances of sport. Players in the NHL can get away with fighting and lot more because they are white.