Since the infamous "Malice in the Palace" brawl in Detroit in 2004, the NBA has done whatever it can to avoid any perception as a league that condones or tolerates fighting. Suspensions for relatively minor tussles have increased in length and flagrant fouls have become more common to stop players from crossing any lines of safety. It's an understandable goal that mostly seems to be working.
It's also possible that these efforts have ignored separate but related issues. In an interview with Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones on ESPN's "Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable" on Wednesday, 18-year NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse detailed the stories beyond a few of his many fights as a pro. Some took place off the court, some on. All were events that the league likely wishes never happened.
Yet, despite the NBA's institutional aversion to fighting, Stackhouse presents these events as normal and sometimes even cathartic moments in the life of a professional athlete. For instance, Stack references the time Kirk Snyder thanked him for fighting him (Bomani: "He told you that he needed to bleed?") and a tussle with Christian Laettner on a flight that managed not to interrupt their close friendship. To hear Stackhouse put it, these fights involved players needing to blow off steam, not a bunch of thugs trying to hurt each other because they know no other way of interaction.
That doesn't mean fighting should be condoned — it just suggests that it's a symptom of something else. In stamping out fighting, the league can't ignore the role it serves as an emotional outlet. What the alternative should be is unclear, because we don't know enough about the specifics. Yet, if the goal is to improve the league's image and keep players safe, a focused approach to stopping fighting might not be the answer. The solution has to be holistically minded.