Fighting in hockey is a widely accepted aspect of the game of hockey across Canada. Based on recent findings on the impacts of concussions, it is no mystery that the revenue and fanfare that fighting is responsible for, is the main reason that fighting is still permitted in the NHL. 31% of fans who watched the 2012 NHL playoffs thought that the fighting, injuries and large body checks were the most exciting aspect of the games. With the NHL sitting near the bottom of the totem pole in terms of popularity, commissioner Gary Bettman would risk losing the approval of 31% of the 5% of Americans sports fans who call hockey their favourite sport.
However, we have learned so much about the damage of blows to the head, that it would be completely immoral to allow fighting to remain in the sport. Our understanding of head injuries has grown so much in the past twenty five years and that can be be displayed by the Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine’s appeal in 1988 to ban fighting in hockey. This proposal displayed our ignorance on concussions just 25 years ago as it lists fighting’s main injuries as causing hand and face fractures, and damage to the eyes. Not once are concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) mentioned in this proposal.
While medical researchers are understanding more and more every day about CTE, the general public is still not aware of the long term impacts of getting blows to the head. According to the introduction of this book, more than 33% of parents are unaware of concussion risks, and this is a sign that the general public does not understand the true dangers of blows to the head. However, with the alarming number of suicides and premature deaths to several former NHL players, the comprehension of a concussion’s severity and after effects are well known to the NHL.
Hockey has taken several precautions over the years, and they have gone from a league where everyone left their heads exposed, to a league where helmets are required, and concussion protocol is necessary within 40 years. If a player looks like he has a concussion, he needs to be evaluated by a trainer in order to be permitted to play. So with all of these rule enhancements to protect the players, why are fighters still being placed in that pressure position of fulfilling their role as an enforcer, when we know about all the damage it causes?
The role of an enforcer is to stand up for the skilled players when they are checked, and if they don’t fight, they likely will not last in the league very long. An example of this was former Toronto Maple Leaf, and a victim of suicide, Wade Belak. Below is a video of him fighting Cam Janssen, who badly injured a Leafs star player in their previous meeting. I say Belak was a victim because Wade was suffering with CTE, which is strongly correlated to drug dependence, depression, and suicide. Receiving blows to the head is the cause of CTE. NHL enforcers are pressured to fight to stay in the league, because that is often the only reason they even get to play. Wade is one of, at least, three players to die from CTE in the past four years, yet the NHL continues to turn a blind eye to this. Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard have all died from CTE and the NHL seems to be taking advantage of the general public’s lack of understanding of what CTE is, by continuing to profit off of fighting as long as they can.
So, we understand now why fighting should not be in the sport. We have seen many serious injuries on live television, players are developing CTE and dying, and now we have to consider why fighting might be acceptable despite all of this in somebody else’s view. As a big hockey fan, I will admit to standing up and getting enthusiastic and cheering over fights like these. I used to love it because I did not know any better. It was thrilling, it gave me a rush of energy, and it would get me fired up. I have put in the work, and I have realized how dangerous, and unnecessary fighting is. So, fighting can be exciting for sure. In fact, many people argue that fighting actually keeps the star players safer. Wayne Gretzky survived in the NHL for years without injuries because of the constant protection from Dave Semenko and Marty Mcsorley. If someone breathed on Gretzky, they would have to answer the bell to these guys.
I can understand the first argument that fighting is exciting. The famous saying, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out”, is a perfect reflection of what many fans want to see at the arena. But, we frown upon the Gladiators and ask how anyone could ever do that. After putting in the research about concussions, I can no longer enjoy celebrating an event that is killing people, albeit slowly. However, one of these times, somebody will die in one of these fights, and we’ve seen many close calls, including one just a year ago involving Colton Orr and George Parros, when Parros’ head smashed on the ice after getting beat in the fight. Watching players shortening their lives for a minute thrill as a fan doesn’t seem like something I can get excited about.
I am a big hockey fan and I have watched many forms of hockey. While fighting might prevent some injuries to star players, there are many other ways to reduce injuries entirely. There are almost no injuries in olympic hockey. That is because the rink is bigger and players have more time and space to react to oncoming checks. Shoulder pads and elbow pads are way too hard, and with players moving at such high speeds, the impact with the equipment is causing injuries as well. To say that fighting prevents injuries is ridiculous. There is no data and it has never been tested in the NHL to see if injuries increase or decrease with fighting out of the picture. So, instead of asking how a star player can be protected, why don’t we move down the chain and ask how our fighters can be protected by the NHL?
The NHL is being way too reactive right now, and instead of waiting for the George Parros and Colton Orr type incidents to end tragically different, we should be proactive, and stop fighting in it’s tracks to keep all of our players safe. This is a better solution than relying on unproven data to keep the highest paid players “safe”, and leaving our fighters in the dust. Despite fighting being in existence, Sidney Crosby has suffered four concussions, but let’s keep killing our tough guys to keep him nice and “safe”.
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