Sunday, 15 September 2013

A Round Up of Recent News On Hockey Fights and Concussions

At a meeting this past August a group of Canadian doctor’s came down firmly on the NHL’s lack of action on concussions and fighting.  It made a lot of news and got spun into several other opinions and news pieces.   Here’s my thoughts on a sample of what was published.

Canadian Medical Association Vote to Condemn NHL Over Fighting

The Globe and Mail reported that the Canadian Medical Association’s annual meeting in August voted to “condemn the complacency” of NHL team owners.   Not much of a surprise here as it would be hard for any doctor to support athletes punching each other in the head.  

There were plenty of follow-up stories and interviews where players and league executives pointed out that less than 10 percent of concussions are caused by hockey fights (more on that issue further on in this post).  There were the usual comments, “have any of these doctors played hockey at a professional level”, and of course they pointed out that fighting was “part of the game”.  Again, no surprises from the pro-fighting contingent or league executives.  Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL, responded to the CMA resolution that, in general, “The league and clubs are comfortable with the current state of the game,” adding that “numerous measures” have been put in place to improve safety.  

Hockey’s culture remains strong and defiant in the face of all evidence that fighting can lead to traumatic brain injury and likely long-term health problems.  Change will be slow or non-existent until we see more significant numbers of current or former players speaking out against fighting.

NFL Coverage of Hockey Fighting and Concussions

I’ve read 4 or 5 articles on the National Football League’s website that have reported on the NHL’s problems with fighting, concussions and the potential for lawsuits.  I’m not sure if it is just simple sports reporting, a calculated program to deflect attention from their own problems or they just like pointing out hockey’s problems.

The article talks about the expansion of the NHL Player Safety Department, with the addition of Brian Leetch and Patrick Burke.   They also touch on the CMA resolution and point out that a player association lawsuit is very likely.  I love the last line of the NFL article, where they use the knowledge gained from settling their own concussion related lawsuit to pass on some wisdom to hockey executives.

“Given everything we now know, especially with the documented suffering of former football heroes, the NHL’s continued embrace of violence is even harder to justify.  The league should work toward a sustainable sport, not one that messes with its athletes’ heads.”

Goons World Comes Out In Support of Fighting

Goons World is a blog that covers UND hockey, college hockey news and general NHL stores.   Based on the name of the blog there is no surprise that they published a post that supports the role of the enforcer.  In this article Eric Burton latches onto the statistic noted in the Globe and Mail article on the CMA resolution, that less than 10 percent of concussions are caused by on-ice fights.  The conclusion is obvious, that everyone should stop worrying about dropping the gloves and focus on the other 90% of stuff that causes brain damage.

I’ve already covered this issue in my post, “Hockey Fights and Concussions”.   The percentage of concussions caused by fighting versus hockey hits is not apples and oranges.  There are far more hockey hits in a game versus fist fights and when you do the math you discover that you are far more likely to suffer a brain injury if you drop the gloves.  Read my post for the full details and analysis on the numbers from a couple of sources.

I also made the point that avoiding any concussion is important and that the NHL could easily strengthen the rules against fighting that would protect 10 or more players a year.  Any other changes that result in the same impact would be difficult or change the way the game is played.  Think of all the rules and discipline that has been implemented in order to reduce head shots.  A recent study concluded that all the league’s effort has resulted in no measurable decline in concussions.  Why not fix the easy issues, fighting, while you continue to study how to tackle the tough ones, how to reduce brain injury without altering how the game is played.

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