Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Not another fighting fight

Like a bunch of mommies screaming from behind the glass, we make a big deal out of what amounts to pretty much nothing.  We react with irrational emotion when we see something bad happen to one of our babies.  The nice part about the glass, is typically the players can't hear what their mommies are squealing about.  Mommy saw something bad happen to her baby, and apart from the squealing, she must legislate any harm done to anyone out of the game.  The screaming doesn't amount to much.  It sounds like noise - loud, but really inconsequential.  If it's anything, it's a distraction from what you need to do the rest of the hockey game.

The speed, physicality, and emotion of professional hockey require an element of instant accountability.  I support fighting as a means of the players policing themselves.  A cheap shot artist needs his face punched when he cheap shots somebody.  Lines will be crossed, players with an edge will go over that edge.  I'd rather a player swings fists when reacting out of emotion and not swing sticks.  However, I do not support fighting for the sake of fighting.  I roll my eyes when I see two guys mosey on up to the face-off circle, nonchalantly say to each other "wanna go" and drop the gloves for no other reason that they're bored.  Coaches should be fined when they send players out to do nothing but fight. Eliminate the needless WWE aspect of fighting in the NHL and the amount of times a pugilist can subject their brain to repetitive trauma will be significantly reduced.  As fans, you can't romanticize about the brutality of the sport and toughness of hockey players, then irrationally deliver emotion when there is a brain injury.

Are you a champion to eliminate fighting in the name of  player safety? Google Travis Roy.  Google Clint Malarchuk.  Google Trent McCleary.  Gruesome injuries.  We're still playing hockey - faster, harder, and tougher than ever.  Before CTE is thrown in my face, which is a serious disease, we should examine Doug Gilmour's brain.  We should look at Marc Savard's brain.  Brett Lindros' brain.  Jeremy Roenick's concussion count is in the double digits - scoop out his brain when his body is returned to the earth.  How many hockey fights was Junior Seau in?  Want to prevent career pugilists from getting CTE?  Get rid of gratuitous fighting.  The singularly dimensional goon has all but been eliminated from hockey.  The hate crimes perpetrated in the NHL throughout the 70's and early 80's as senseless line brawls are behind us.  But there is still too much gratuitous fighting in the NHL.  "Wanna Go" needs to go.

Doesn't fight, gets lots of concussions.
To legislate fighting out of the most dangerous major sport solely in the name of player safety is a shallow argument.  If you're worried about players safety there are some other things you should consider first: remove the razor blades from the players feet because the footage of gruesome lacerations is endless. Remove the ice because it's slippery and causes countless concussions in hockey. Make slap shots illegal and remove the curve from the sticks so that pucks don't hit people in the face an head. Give everyone inline skates with RPM limited ball bearings so no one player can surpass the breakneck speed of 7 miles an hour.  Ok, I've made my point.

I mentioned Travis Roy for a reason.  Travis Roy is something that happened in hockey before the year 2000.  On October 20th, 1995 just 11 seconds into his first shift as a Division 1 college hockey player, Travis Roy missed delivering a check, fell awkwardly into the boards head-first at high speed, and instantly became a quadriplegic.  There was no mistake - You knew watching him fall that he was never, ever going to walk again.  Watching the unedited film is an experience.  Nothing about the contact to the boards is upsetting, until you watch his arms, leg, and neck turn into limp noodles on his way to the ice.  Every part of his body instantly went limp and he lay on the ice as if dropped from 500 feet.  This happened in a era before social media and 24/7 news coverage turned America into a country of polarized cynics incapable of critical thinking.  Critical thinking was still taught in schools and people weren't pulling their pee-wees out of house hockey because something horrible happened to a good person.  It brought about an age of awareness in hockey.  We put emphasis on teaching players the right way to go into the boards.  We started renewed emphasis on not hitting a guy in the numbers.  We educated coaches and volunteers about the no zones and how to demonstrate the caution that must be exercised within a few feet of the boards.  It was the best possible outcome from that tragedy that could have happened.

Why the diatribe about Roy?  What happened to him was tragic an unfortunate.  We didn't legislate away a crucial part of the game in the name of player safety because something bad happened.  We took the opportunity to create awareness, educate players and coaches, and made sure that intentional acts that could bring about serious injury were punished.  We didn't spread fear or make mommies worry.  It raised awareness, it elevated education.

The NHL has done some things for the appearance of player safety in regards to fighting.  You can't willingly remove your helmet during a fight.  You can't instigate a fight while wearing a face shield.  Very much a  'we must do something approach' to injuries and CTE.  For you cause-heads, none of those rules reduces the number of times a player can subject their brain to repetitive injury.  I offer a better mix of rules to minimize the WWE element and increase player safety among those who choose to have their brain mashed by another human being.

1. Any player who participates in a fight is evaluated by medical staff after the game and completes baseline testing, period.  Those results are provided to the league before the team's next game.  CTE is caused by repetitive brain trauma.  Best way to avoid repetitive brain trauma caused by fighting is to check for brain trauma after a fight.  Players are rather crafty had hiding mild concussion symptoms.  Trust me.

2. Being around hockey most of my life, I can't justify a scenario where a player needs to get into three fights during a game.  Start two, or be a willing combatant in two unprovoked fights in a game, earns you an immediate shower - after passing your baseline testing of course.  The instigator rule takes away most of the desire for someone to start a fight with a guy just so he gets ejected after two fights.  If a player starts a fight with another player just to get a someone ejected, the perpetrator gets a $25,000 fine and the team gets $100,000 fine.

3.  Lose the stupid helmet rule during a fight.  This encourages loose helmets, visors tiled up, and other unsafe practices by those wishing to fight.  I'm curious to see how many stitches are sewn into players knuckles after hitting a helmet/visor that would have otherwise been nothing be a face wash.  Also, you eliminate the WWE factor, this rule matters less.

At the end of the day, this is an issue that I have no business trying to influence. I am a fan.  I have given some suggestions, rather than just blather an emotionally charged opinion with no perspective or fact.  The cause-heads that call for the end to fighting over player's safety must attend "end boxing" and "end MMA" and "remove martial arts from the Olympics" rallies four times a week.  I imagine you go to the NHL arena armed with signs that protest fighting. 

Brain injuries are trendy for sure.  No one cries for player safety when countless hockey players routinely have multiple knee and groin surgeries.  Where are the cries for player safety when a player misses long stretches of games, or retires from hockey, from brain injuries suffered during the normal course of play?  I support creating an enviornment in professional hockey where using fights as a means to intimidate another team is eliminated.  There should be no WWE showmanship where you're fighting simply for the thrill of fighting. But trying to eliminate fighting from hockey because something bad happened to somebody during a fight is not a solid argument.  An NHL player can continue to participate in play if their helmet comes off during the course of a game.  That sounds pretty safe.

1 comment:

  1. My thoughts on the matter are littered throughout the blog. I'm no fan of clown fighting, which is what we get these days. Lose the instigator rule, and let fighting be about on-ice enforcement if you have it at all.

    Regardless, I'm sensing a future - not too long from now - when the lawyers settle the issue for us.

    But that's me.


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