The recent deaths of NHL enforcers, Wade Belak, Rick Rypien, and Derek Boogaard have raised a lot of questions and concerns. See “Questions Linger Over Recent Deaths of Three NHL Enforcers,” San Jose Mercury News.

What role did concussions, if any, have in their deaths?

Did blows to the head from years of fighting lead to a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can be associated with depression?

Are hockey leagues and organizations doing enough to protect players from brain trauma injuries?

Is there any place for fighting and goon-like behavior in hockey?

Recent stories on concussions in sports have focused on football in general and the NHL in particular. But concussions are a serious issue in hockey and the NHL as well. Hockey superstar Eric Lindross never did return to his all-star level after multiple concussions. For years following a series of concussions, he suffered not only debilitating physical symptoms but life-altering emotional symptoms as well. See “Concussions: The Untold Story,” Macleans. The return to the ice of perhaps the NHL’s best player today, Sidney Crosby, remains uncertain due to post-concussive symptoms.

Hockey is a physical, sometimes violent game. That’s understood. But every safety precaution needs to be taken, especially when it comes to blows to the head. And that brings us to the topic of enforcers, goons if you prefer, whose primary job is to fight. See “The Worst Job in Sports,” Sports Illustrated, It’s a demeaning job, usually left to players without the pure hockey skills to earn a roster spot based on their hockey ability alone. Enforcers generally make teams because of their fighting ability and mentality. In light of the growing mound of research regarding the short-and-long-term effects of concussions in sports, hockey leaders need to seriously consider a complete ban on fighting.

For a more in-depth discussion of the issue of concussions in sports, see the League of Fans’ Sports Manifesto report, “Concussion Research Can’t Be Ignored.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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