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Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton fights for his right to fight in the NHL

Sep 13, 2011, 9:00 AM EDT

Kyle Clifford, Shawn Thornton Getty Images

After a summer filled with sadness linked to the deaths of NHL tough guys Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak, the one thing that’s come out of that is the debate over whether or not fighting should stay part of the game in the NHL. While fighting didn’t kill those three players, their role as enforcers and intimidators in the league led them to careers filled with pain and injury.

The fighting debate is often linked to concussions, a debate big enough to fill an entire book on its own, and concussions are linked to depression (believed to have contributed to both Rypien and Belak’s deaths) it’s the perfect hot button issue the NHL would rather not have. While former fighters in the NHL like Georges Laraque and Jim Peplinski have spoken up and against fighting now that their careers are over, one current tough guy is standing up for what he’s doing.

Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton doesn’t much care for what people are saying about getting rid of fighting in the wake of what’s happened this summer and he tells’s Joe Haggerty that if they want to take up their argument about dumping fighting, they should come talk to him first.

“It kind of [expletive] pisses me off that people take this opportunity to try and exploit a certain part of the game,” said Thornton. “I think those are very, very sad instances, but I also think exploiting them for a part of the game isn’t the right way to go.”

“I think we should remember those people for the men that they were, and not what they did for a living,” said Thornton.

Thornton’s never been a guy to hold back on his thoughts and his feelings and the role of an enforcer in its roots is a noble one. The enforcer is the valiant knight of the team standing up for teammates and protecting the weaker players on the team. Ideally that’s what they’re supposed to do.

Thornton’s message about remembering the guys that have passed away for who they are is a stand-up move and typical of the role he plays on the Bruins. You’d have to assume that any of Boogaard, Rypien, or Belak wouldn’t just want to be remembered as being labeled a “goon” or “thug” for doing the job they were hired to do for their teams. There’s a reason why these guys are the most popular ones in the locker room and amongst the fan base as well.

For Thornton’s piece in this debate he’s justifying his existence in a very loud and meta kind of way. Standing up for fighting while also standing up for guys who have passed away and can’t speak for themselves makes you appreciate Thornton as a teammate. Whether you feel he’s right or not about doing part of his job with his fists is a matter of debate that surely won’t stop raging. One thing that’s for sure is that Thornton is awfully good at his job.

  1. hystoracle - Sep 13, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    Fighting is part of the game. They have been fighting in hockey from day one. There is no link between being an enforcer and suicide. If there was, there would have been many, many, many more stories like the 3 we had this year in hockey’s past. I haven’t seen it. I would take a close look at the medications, supplements, etc these guys put into their bodies now-a-days. With all the side effects and strange interactions that can occur in an individual from some of this stuff (even legal meds and supplements), there is no telling what affected the minds of these guys. IT is a sad story but knee-jerk reactions to fix something that isn’t broken usually results in further damage.

    • icelovinbrotha215 - Sep 13, 2011 at 11:50 AM

      How can you say there is no link? Concussions has to do something with it. I do agree with you with the medication though. I think it’s the combination of both treatments (medicine, supplements, etc.) and the concussions. I really don’t think we can pinpoint one reason.

      • kellyb9 - Sep 13, 2011 at 12:54 PM

        Football appears to have a much larger issue with concussions and brain injuries, and they’ve never seemed to have the same level of issues that the NHL is experiencing this offseason. I certainly think that the NHL ought to be taking a deeper look into it either way.

      • betrayedbylife - Sep 13, 2011 at 7:38 PM

        show me the scientific studies that have concluded that concussions and brain injuries stemming from fighting (NOT from cheap hits because, after all, you and others who are anti-fighting seem to believe the most concussions come from fights) are the primary factor that causes human beings to commit suicide or die. i think it has more to do with the ways these guys try to deal with the pressure and anxiety that most certainly would come with being an enforcer in the NHL. the NHL should do more to help them find ways to handle the pressure instead of trying to eliminate an aspect of the game that has been a part of it since its inception.

  2. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Sep 13, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    Right on Shawn. I’ve been saying that using these deaths as a rallying cry against fighting is just plain wrong since day 1. Seems to me the people who are doing so were anti-fighting proponents before these deaths and have no shame. I can”t think of anyone prominent who has switched their stance on fighting because of these tragic deaths. Doing so with absolutely no conclusive evidence would make no sense

  3. Myndmelt - Sep 14, 2011 at 8:47 AM

    I missed the article of where all the boxers/mma guys died because of fighting and hits to the head.. oh it didnt happen…hmm.

  4. Myndmelt - Sep 14, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    It would be very unpopular by hockey purist but what if an extra 2 minute penalty was given if you purposely remove your helmet, such as in a fight. I’m not a doctor but wouldn’t you think if you were going to get a concussion from blows to the skull area, not necessarily the face, I mean would you get a concussion (very easily) in a fight if your helmet is still on.

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