A Rebuttal to Ryan Lambert of Yahoo! Sports Regarding Fighting in the NHL
Puck Daddy Blog
Dear Mr. Lambert:
Thank you for your interest in our letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, in which we called for a ban on fighting in the NHL.
While appreciating the passion in your commentary, we believe there were several misunderstandings, misstatements and unwarranted claims in your blog. We would like to rebut several of the statements you made in reference to our letter.
First of all, we never said that fighting is the “leading cause” of concussions as you state. Clearly, the vast majority of concussions in hockey result from blows to the head received in ways other than fighting. As such, we called for a ban on fighting as part of an overarching ban on ALL blows to the head in the NHL.
You claim that we said “fighting is directly related to the number of concussions in the NHL these days.” You called us “stupid” for saying that. Your problem is, we never said such a thing.
And we also didn’t say fighting prematurely cut short the careers of Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros or Keith Primeau as you assert. Moreover, we didn’t state that fighting is threatening the careers of Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger.
Repeated head trauma shortened the careers of LaFontaine, Lindros, and Primeau, and is threatening the careers of Crosby and Pronger. Obviously, the brain trauma these players endured came from blows to the head due to multiple causes, not simply fighting. That’s why we asked Mr. Bettman to take the step to outlaw all shots to the head, including those resulting from fighting.
Additionally, while nobody can definitively say that fighting contributed to the deaths of three enforcers, Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak, this past year, it’s certainly possible that the brain trauma they experienced on the ice in their roles as enforcers was a contributing factor to their tragic deaths. In fact, we know for sure that Boogard was suffering from advanced stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head. CTE symptoms include memory loss, depression, impulsiveness and drug and alcohol addiction. It can only be diagnosed by examining the brain after death.
Mr. Lambert, you also took us to task for suggesting a link between how NHL players conduct themselves on the ice and how young players at lower levels conduct themselves. Junior hockey players know that fighting prowess is one way they can get to the NHL. Junior hockey leagues allow fighting as part of their developmental role for the NHL. To be sure, there are a large number of teenagers — the vast majority of which will never make it to the NHL — taking unnecessary shots to their brains in junior hockey leagues due to the fact that fighting and other unnecessary blows to the head are still allowed in those developmental leagues.
Brain trauma is a serious problem in the NHL, and in all of sports for that matter. It could be THE sports issue of the coming decade. The fact Mr. Bettman — after creating a department of player safety and professing a deep concern for his players’ health — continues to allow bare-knuckled blows to the head during games is tragic and completely irresponsible.
As we asked Bettman in our letter, “How can you continue to allow fighting, in which the primary target is the head of your opponent, and seriously make the argument that you’re doing all you can do to make player safety a priority?”
Only last month, The Globe and Mail published an editorial calling for an end to fighting in junior hockey. The editorial concluded, “The rules of Canada’s game were not set in stone on a mountain top. There is no earthly reason to put teenagers brains through a meat grinder to keep purists happy.” We couldn’t agree more.
The NHL and Gary Bettman have taken some positive steps in recent years to deem certain blows to the head illegal that were considered legal only a few short years ago. That’s progress. But some blows to the head remain legal and, of course, fighting is still allowed. That needs to change.
As NHL hockey legend Ken Dryden recently wrote, “If hits to the head are banned, why not punches to the head? … This is about head injuries, not fighting’s place in hockey.” (See “Time for the NHL to Get Head Smart“).
Mr. Lambert, the gist of our letter was about unnecessary damage to the brains of hockey players and what that damage means to the players themselves and everyone who loves them.
It’s fine to be passionate about the game of hockey.
But given the growing mound of research on brain trauma in sports, it’s important that everyone who cares about hockey be just as passionate about protecting hockey players — and their futures — by doing everything possible to make hockey a more “head smart” game.
Ralph Nader, Founder, League of Fans
Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
(Find our initial letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman here.)
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
Listen on Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Anchor and others.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
More Episodes on Apple Podcasts; Spotify; Google Podcasts; PocketCasts; & Anchor
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon