We expect to see fights at hockey games, but medical research is revealing the serious repercussions of those repeated concussions.
The adage about going to a fight and seeing a hockey game break out has some truth to it, though less so these days compared to the past five years, according to data from hockeyfights.com published in the March 26, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine.
That there are sources that track the number of times players drop the gloves during games or that it’s so jokingly commonplace may beg the question: Would hockey be the same without the fighting?
Sports Illustrated asked both National Hockey League players and fans whether the league should ban fighting—both responded with an overwhelming “no”—but critics of the fisticuffs are more motivated by safety and wellness than trying to enforce some level of propriety on the very physical sport.
Of the 202 NHL players who participated in Sports Illustrated’s survey, just one advocated an end to the violence. An SI fan Facebook poll found that only 10 percent of respondents felt likewise.
Perhaps we’re all desensitized to the bloody noses, knocked-out teeth and concussions—just from playing, not fighting—to see much harm in two players tangling up on the ice every now and then.
But some of the cause for concern over the death of three hockey players just last year—and the call for the ban on fighting—is over the fact that each played the same position. In hockey, the enforcer acts as the protector of his teammates, intimidating his opponents and dropping the gloves if need be.
While it may have a noble ring to it, the death of New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard last May is causing some to take a more cautious approach to fighting in hockey—even to the point of banning it.
The 28-year-old Boogard was determined to have died from an overdose of alcohol and pain medication, an addiction developed over years of coping with injuries. But the researchers who studied his brain after his death made a telling find: Repeated brain trauma from concussive blows led to a degenerative condition similar to Alzheimer’s, which would have progressively created a new set of problems, painkillers aside.
In that vein, USA Hockey’s chief medical officer is among those who support the fighting ban. Other medical researchers call for limiting blows to the head, much like the National Football League has done of late with some of its rule changes.
Detractors of the ban fear that the NHL would resemble soccer if fighting—one of the sport’s hallmarks—were banned. But as we’ve seen with the NFL in recent years, hockey could be on its way to becoming less physical with more research and more tragedies like Boogaard’s to support it.