What’s one way to guarantee fighting will remain a staple of professional hockey?
Reading his open letter to Gary Bettman, you can tell Nader hasn’t watched too much hockey in, say, the last several decades. After conceding there is no evidence directly connecting fighting to brain injuries…he says, “[r]epeated head trauma has shortened the careers of Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros, and Keith Primeau. Currently, concussions are threatening the careers of Pittsburgh Penguins’ superstar Sidney Crosby and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Chris Pronger.”
First thing’s first: How many of those guys got concussions from fighting? Primeau maybe?
The off-ice deaths of Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak (all of whom Nader cites in his impassioned plea for
new rules attention) have certainly re-focused discussion on how the NHL is addressing the issue of concussions and brain injuries. Every sport is rightly doing so. But changing any of the rules of hockey likely won’t significantly reduce concussions when the players on the rink are getting bigger, stronger and faster. Witness the NFL where despite a litany of new rules designed to protect players most at risk for such injuries (QBs, WRs & DBs), concussions were only increasing (167 in total in 2010; the 2011 numbers haven’t been finished but were up to 146 by only week 12). And this in a sport where fighting might earn you a five week suspension, not a five minute one.
If rules need to be adjusted to reduce concussions, it ought to be on the amateur levels where the differences in size and talent are more extreme than on the professional. A 2010 Canadian study of junior hockey showed a higher rate of concussions per game than anything the professionals have to worry about. And those concussions had nothing to do with fighting since fighting is already banned in such leagues.
If the NHL wants to take steps to finally ban actual fist-a-cuffs in games, fine by me. But let’s not pretend that doing so accomplishes anything related to reducing brain injuries.