By Ken Reed

During a time when there is more and more evidence that blows to the head can lead to both short and long-term brain injuries and debilitating neurological disorders (including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE), Colorado Avalanche defenseman Jack Johnson is publicly advocating for fighting in youth hockey leagues.

Colorado Springs Gazette writer Kyle Fredrickson wrote about Johnson’s beliefs recently.

“Johnson views a lack of fight experience for up-and-coming talent as a potential health risk,” wrote Fredrickson. “He took boxing classes in high school to hone his fighting craft.”

Johnson argues that if kids don’t know how to duke it out on the ice, they could be in danger when they reach the NHL. Of course, less than 1% of youth hockey players ever get a sniff of the NHL. So, advocating for fighting in youth hockey on those grounds is pure silliness.

“There’s the risk that you could really get hurt when you come to the NHL and have your first fight,” says Johnson. “If you’ve never done it before, then you could get really hurt,” Johnson says. “You’re just delaying the inevitable.”

There’s a simple response to that line of thinking: Ban fighting in the NHL and all levels of hockey, just like it is in every other major team sport, including college, European and Olympic hockey. And no, a five-minute major penalty isn’t enough of a penalty, or disincentive, to stop fighting in the NHL. Ejection from the game and a one-game suspension (maybe a multiple game suspension depending on the specifics of the situation) without pay would go a long way toward ending the NHL’s barbaric practice.

Johnson doesn’t see the NHL ever outlawing fighting, despite the fact that the NHL’s tolerance of fighting is the exception rather than the rule in hockey leagues around the world.

“We all signed up for this,” says Johnson. “It’s part of the game and I do think it keeps it honest.”

Well, Jack, it’s part of the game now but it doesn’t need to continue to being part of the game. The NHL could simply outlaw the practice and join the rest of the global hockey community.

Given Johnson’s surprising remarks, it’s clear that the NHL needs to do a lot better job educating its players about all the research studies revealing the serious dangers of brain trauma in sports.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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