A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: NHL

Because a Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

By Ryan Morrison

Last Friday evening I attended a screening of “Head Games,” a documentary detailing the current concussion crisis in sports. It’s been just over a week, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Steve James, director of “Hoop Dreams,” one of the best sports documentaries of all time (actually, one of the best documentaries, period), now brings us the story of Christopher Nowinski, ex-football player and professional wrestler turned author and activist. If you’ve played contact sports at some point in your life, Mr. Nowinski wants your brain.

He also wants to make clear that whatever happens in college football and the NFL is repeated by millions of children in their pee wee and high school leagues. The issue is not merely whether, as a sports fan, you agree with concussion inspired rule changes in the NFL, but whether, as a mom or dad, you’re protecting your child’s future.

As Mr. Nowinski, who grew up loving the sport, says, “If I had a six-year-old playing football I would be freaked out, and rightly so. You’re playing Russian roulette with their future.”

The science of the long-term negative impact of concussions is explained in the film so clearly that even I, a guy who passes out in hospitals, easily understood it. Brain after brain and doctor after doctor point to the same conclusion: Concussions are a very serious problem and the signs of long term damage (most notably Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative disease that in Nowinski’s words “can make you go crazy”) have been found in even a few teenage athletes. And not just in football. Lacrosse, hockey, and even women’s soccer are also damaging our children’s brains.

So the message is clear. It’s getting the message out that’s the problem.

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School of Hard-Knocks: A Culture of Fighting in the NHL

By Meghan Lalonde

I grew up in a family of hockey players. My father played and my great great great uncle is in the Hockey Hall of Fame; he scored the first goal in the first-ever National Hockey League game in 1917 when he played for the Montreal Canadiens. Even more impressive, at least to my dad, he led the league in penalty minutes.

Fighting is just one of many penalties a player can be called for during a hockey game. When a player violates a rule he receives a penalty and is sent to the penalty box for between two to five minutes, depending on the severity of the rule that was broken. Fighting will get you the full five minutes in the “sin bin.” Heard of the band Five for Fighting? Now you understand the name.

In the wake of studies that suggest repeated head trauma (like concussions) may lead to a degenerative brain diseases known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), many contact sports have been criticized for their violent hits and frequent head injuries. The National Football League (NFL) responded by tightening rules governing hits to the head while increasing penalties and fines for players who violate the new rules. But the NHL fights on… for now.

According to a recent NHL Players’ Association poll, 98 per cent of all players think fighting is just a part of the game. But should it be?

In December, the New York Times published “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer”, a three-part series by John Branch covering the career and death of Derek Boogaard, a former player for the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild. He played as an “enforcer”, which is hockey slang for saying he spent a good share of his ice time beating up the other team and getting beat up himself. During his career, Derek “The Boogeyman” Boogaard had a hand in over 200 fights.

He was posthumously diagnosed with C.T.E at age 28 and sadly, he isn’t the only young enforcer to have recently died with the disease.

I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Branch about the future of fighting in the NHL. Here’s what he said, and our take on it:  (more…)

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