There are plenty of people who simply don’t care about the welfare of professional athletes, but I’d like to think that most of us care – at least a little bit – about the health of NHL players. That’s why it makes sense that the league is looking into different ways to make hockey a safer sport.
Yet at some point, one must acknowledge that violence is an inherent part of the game. When a hockey player signs a contract, he’s basically making a pact to put his body on the line – it’s one of the drawbacks to the fame, glory and money that comes with playing the sport at its highest level.
The Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Gray wrote a provocative (and quick) piece about head shots in the NHL, revolving around the fear that Sidney Crosby’s struggles with concussions might mean that we’ve already seen the star center’s best days. Gray makes a wider point about how the league needs to investigate head injuries, but does he ask for a little too much?
But if Bettman were really brave, his league would be aggressively investigating the recent indications that shots to the head and fighting can lead to brain injuries and some forms of mental illness. But that could mean taking head shots, fighting and maybe even body contact out of the NHL. And while that might be good for players’ health, it wouldn’t be good for owners’ pocketbooks. The NHL believes violence sells. There is little evidence to suggest otherwise … unfortunately.
Honestly, I could see a future NHL in which head shots will be made illegal across the board. Maybe fighting will be removed from the game within our lifetimes (or at least our children/grancdhildren’s lives, depending on your age). But the thought of removing body contact out of the sport is as wrong as changing the NFL to a flag football league.
Perhaps there’s a gladiatorial element to some fans’ interest in the sport, but body contact is an essential element of any NHL game. Physicality makes an impact just about everywhere on the ice; it’s tough to picture defensemen trying to contain explosive forwards with stick work and positioning alone.
Sure, it’s possible to play the game in such a manner, but abolishing body contact would be an extreme measure that would remove much of the thrill and intrigue from the sport.
Now that you’ve heard my reaction to the piece, where do you stand on measures to protect players? Should the NHL make all hits to the head illegal, ban fighting or even body contact altogether, as Gray suggests? Let us know in the comments.