Fighting in Hockey: The Passive-Aggressive Approach

George Parros #15 of the Montreal Canadiens falls to the ice head first during his third period fight with Colton Orr #28 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on October 1, 2013 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 4-3. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

George Parros wasn’t concussed because he was knocked out by a haymaker from Colton Orr. But when his face smashed the ice before the rest of his body on Tuesday evening, it was a head injury all the same.

Concussions used to be something a doctor would dismiss as “nothing big”. Now, connections are being made between repeated blows to the head and later depression, suicidal tendencies, and personality changes. Putting it simply, when your brain gets mashed around inside your skull, your brain chemistry literally starts to change. Whether its a fist, shoulder or any other type of blunt force trauma to the head, the brain is being damaged (Traumatic Brain Injury or TPI). And that doesn’t only lead to increased susceptibility to concussions over time, but also permanent damage to the brain’s biochemical system.

In a politics essay I did in my senior year of high school (in June of 2012), I discussed banning fighting in NHL hockey in the interest of maintaining corporate responsibility. In my search for consensus on head injuries in the medical world, I found that the prognoses for head injuries was no longer being considered temporary.

“Concussions used to be considered minor injuries because we were taught in medical school that a concussion had a temporary effect. It’s true that some of the symptoms are temporary, but the effects on the brain are often permanent,” Dr. Charles Tator, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, said.

Need more evidence? Here’s the conclusion of a study that took retired football players and gauged recurring concussions in relation to later risk of depression.

“TBI can result in diffuse lesions in the brain, depending on the mechanism of injury. These lesions result in biochemical changes, including an increase in excitatory neurotransmitters, which has been implicated in neuronal loss and cell death. A potential mechanism for lifelong depression could be this initial loss of neurons, which could be compounded by additional concussions, eventually leading to the structural changes seen with major depression. The structural changes could put the individuals at greater risk of depressive episodes, creating a positive-feedback cycle predicated on the original injury.”

Yes, football hits and hockey fights are different, but they both carry the same pattern of blows to the head over a period of time. So, which hockey role takes the most direct blows to the head?  The role of the enforcer, or fighter, the guy who stands up for his players by pounding face. While standing up for your players is necessary, the extent of the trauma can and will have sad consequences.

Do the names Rick Rypien, Wade Belak or Derek Boogard ring any bells? They all played the role of enforcer in the NHL and they all dealt with major depression. What’s more horrible is that all three men died in a span of four months. Two lives tragically lost to suicide*, and one accidental drug overdose.

You’d be slightly naive to call that a mere coincidence.

But after all that, it may not surprise you to read that I’m completely against fighting. When someone gets hit with a punch in any sport, whether it be hockey or MMA, and their legs buckle beneath them, it’s not “sick” to me. When a player’s eyes roll back into their head, I feel sick.

And the only thing that may be worse than seeing that is the scene of people cheering it on; just as loud as they would if someone scored an unbelievable goal.

Considering that declaration, you will be, however, surprised to read that I actually don’t care if hockey loses fighting or not. If players take all the information above and still consent to the existence of hand-to-hand combat in their game, that’s fine with me. If the fans demand a clip of a fight in their morning highlight viewing routine, same thing.

Just don’t act surprised or devastated when you read an obituary of a player who took their own life after a career of fights you cheered for.

*Only one was confirmed.

Main sources:

Dr. Charles Tator: http://www.mcgill.ca/reporter/34/13/tator/

Football study: http://indianasportsconcussionnetwork.com/recurrentriskofdepressionnfl.pdf

Contains more medical discussion on head injuries:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/george-parros-injury-renews-debate-about-fighting-in-hockey-1.1876908

Note: Despite the intensity of this post, I’m very much open to discussion on this topic. I only ask that you remain respectful in that process.

Thanks for reading.

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One thought on “Fighting in Hockey: The Passive-Aggressive Approach

  1. In my opinion, fighting needs to stay in hockey. It has a place in hockey. I believe it should stay not only because its a thrill when two heavy weights square off(Which I get a big adrenalin rush from), but because of the fact that its hard for 2-3 referees to watch 12 players all at once, so the self-policing aspect that the players provide is, again in my opinion, needed. Its no surprise that dirty plays happen behind the play that refs miss, they’re only human, they cannot spot everything.

    A personal example that I have is from two years ago while playing Lacrosse(Has similar intensity, hits, theory of hockey). A player one of my teammates were changing as another player was coming onto the floor, because they benches were side by side the two players needed to run past each other to get where they needed to go. The player on the opposing team ran by with his stick at head level and in turn cross checked out player in the mouth knocking out his two front teeth, which led to that player having to have surgery, fake teeth ect ect ect. The incident was not seen by refs since the bench area can get pretty hectic during changes. The next face off our enforcer lined up next to the player of the opposing team that committed the cross check, where they dropped the gloves and went toe to toe. Imagine if there was no fighting and this player got away with this? Madness.

    Another topic to relate to is this passing season the OJBLL (Ontario Junior B Lacrosse League) banned fighting where it use to be like hockey (5 min Major). From what I saw, were the dirty players/plays reduced? Maybe a little bit, but not really. Usually what would happen would be that one player would start throwing punches, and the other player didn’t want to throw in fear of the suspension that ensued (3 games for first fight, 5 games for second, indefinite for third).

    What happened to Parros was quite unfortunate, I am a Toronto fan so obviously I was rooting for Orr, but what happened, I wouldn’t wish on anyone. As much as it pains to say it, imagine Kessels stick swinging incident went unpunished?(I realize that Shanaban suspended him) Kudos to Flynn for stepping up after the two big hacks thrown. Being a enforcer is a tough job, Id debate to say one of the hardest since you’re a punching bag.

    My stance is pretty clear, is fighting needed? Yes. Would I stop watching hockey if fighting is removed? I’m leaning towards yes

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