By Ken Reed
In recent findings that are far from shocking, National Hockey League (NHL) enforcers (players who frequently engage in fighting) die 10 years earlier than their peers, according to a study published by JAMA on May 10, 2023.
Brain trauma has long been a concern when it comes to NHL players, especially enforcers and others who partake in fighting on a fairly regular basis. Fighting has always been implicitly accepted in the NHL. Players fighting during games only receive a 5-minute penalty and then are allowed back in the game.
The premature deaths of multiple NHL enforcers, including Rick Rypien (aged 27 years), Derek Boogaard (aged 28 years), Wade Belak (aged 35 years), Steve Montador (aged 35 years), and Bob Probert (aged 45 years), have drawn attention to the potential health consequences, including CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), of fighting.
A recent examination of all-cause mortality comparing National Football League (NFL) players with Major League Baseball (MLB) players demonstrated that NFL players had an elevated all-cause mortality. This study was undertaken to better understand the relationship between fighting, penalty minutes, and repetitive head trauma with neurodegenerative disorders and all-cause mortality in the NHL.
The findings revealed NHL enforcers die a mean of 10 years earlier and more frequently of suicide and drug overdose than matched controls. The causes of death in the 21 enforcers studied included neurodegenerative disorders, drug overdose, suicide, and motor vehicle crashes, whereas only 1 of the 24 age-matched controls died of any of these causes (motor vehicle crash).
Here’s hoping this study spurs calls for game misconduct penalties — at a minimum — for fighting. Multi-game penalties should be seriously considered, as should strong penalties for any blows delivered to the head during play.
Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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.
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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
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