Minor Penalty for (Not) Checking

What’s one way to guarantee fighting will remain a staple of professional hockey?

Have Ralph Nader argue against it.

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.

3 thoughts on “Minor Penalty for (Not) Checking

  1. Two things come to mind for decreasing the incidence and severity of injuries in pro leagues:

    1. Stop inflating player salaries with taxpayer funded stadia, both at the professional and college/amateur level. Reality is that if pro athletics paid like, say, a good professional job (e.g. doctor/lawyer/engineer) instead of thirty times as high, you’d end up with less incentive to become a freak of nature as is seen in the pro leagues.

    2. Change the rules of the games to require more endurance and less explosive speed. You’d reduce the mismatch between muscular strength and skeletal robustness. I don’t know if you could persuade Americans to watch rugby or Aussie rules instead of what we’re watching today, but it might be worth looking into.

  2. I went to a fight once, but a hockey game broke out.
    But seriously, folks. Does Ralph Nader truly believe that a couple of hockey enforcers wearing helmets and punching without benefit of gloves can produce brain damage over and above what happens when aforementioned players hit the ice after a fall or go into the boards head first?
    I think Ralph is the one whose had too many concussions.

  3. I did a little research.

    There are 35 videos of Eric Lindros fights available at hockeyfights.com and through his career he amassed over 1,400 penalty minutes in just over 800 games. Not excessive, but he did fight plenty.

    Chris Pronger has also fought plenty. He has just over 1,900 career penalty minutes though as a defenseman he tends to be in the box a little more than most forwards.

    While I agree that Ralph Nader is probably the wrong person to be talking about sports injuries, hockey does have a problem with concussions and head injuries, which can occur in non-fighting situations as well (just ask Jack Jablonski).

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