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The physical toll of being a goon
December 6, 2011 6:29 AM   Subscribe

The NYT has published a three-part series on the life of late hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard, who died earlier this year at age 28 of a drug and alcohol overdose.

Part 1: A Boy Learns to Brawl (single page link)

Part 2: Blood on the Ice (single page link)

Part 3: A Brain ‘Going Bad’ (single page link)
posted by orrnyereg (112 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Related, previously, on CTE.
posted by availablelight at 6:33 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, thank you for this! There was talk of this series on my radio this morning, about what a read this is. I will dig into it for sure!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:33 AM on December 6, 2011


I've been reading this the last couple days, and even for a non-hockey fan, this is some great reporting.
posted by rtha at 6:34 AM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:39 AM on December 6, 2011


yah, I picked this up off facebook. The washpost did a similar long story on another fighter that was equally compelling (Donald Brashear )
posted by k5.user at 6:48 AM on December 6, 2011


I was going to post this. Hockey seems completely dysfunctional, and I genuinely don't understand the need for enforcers. The first section of this, is exactly how it feels to grow up in Nothern Alberta--and though I never played hockey, my sister did, and ringette--and the pressure, the waiting in cold arenas, the isolation, and how it was never unusual to drive two or three hours out of town.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:49 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I watched the first two parts of the video on Sunday night - heartbreaking. I love hockey but I DESPISE the fighting. It's just plain stupid and it needs to be stopped.
posted by spicynuts at 6:54 AM on December 6, 2011


I can only respond with an apropos tweet from @hockeyesque (dave bidini)

"am i the only one who feels that the NY Times piece on derek boogard is a bit of an easy mark? tragedy, the north, canada, winter... ok."
posted by clvrmnky at 6:56 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


What does an enforcer actually do? Does beating up other players actually serve any purpose other than entertainment for the masses?
posted by daniel_charms at 6:56 AM on December 6, 2011


I genuinely don't understand the need for enforcers

They act as a buffer/threat to protect your most skilled players from developing the kind of health problems that tortured and killed Boogaard. Which makes this series even more heartbreaking--Derek would have rather been a goal scorer if he had had the skill set. Instead, he was made into a human sacrifice to protect more "valuable assets."
posted by availablelight at 6:58 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I took a quick look at some data. There's not really a downward trend of fighting over the last decade. Some minor ups and downs and this season has a little bit less than past seasons but not enough to say rates are falling. Rates, btw, are by and large less than one fight every two games.

That said there's definitely a different attitude toward fighting than when I watched a lot of hockey in the 1990s. It was more entertainment then. Now, when I watch hockey, there's a marked attempt to avoid fight coverage on TV.

Hockey players have always said that in such a physical game, if you don't allow fighting, there's going to be more injurious ways of blowing off steam - egregious stick penalties for example.
posted by entropone at 7:00 AM on December 6, 2011


re: the need for enforcers -

it's worth noting that even if fighting were completely banned in hockey - let's say there were some big penalty for it that pretty much took it out of the game - there would still be enforcers. their job is to play physically - to make it difficult for the other team to control the puck, to force turnovers, to create space on the ice for the team's skilled offensive players.

and lest anybody get up in arms about my earlier comment vis a vis fighting and stick penalties, i don't buy it. i think it's a hockey-culture thing which can change.
posted by entropone at 7:03 AM on December 6, 2011


enforcers then don't have to be fighters? Can they work more like gaurds?
posted by PinkMoose at 7:04 AM on December 6, 2011


They can, but they'd still be the guys whose job it is to make and receive the hardest hits.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:08 AM on December 6, 2011


If we elimniate fighting, would the "hardest hits" still result in a Boogard type situation?
posted by PinkMoose at 7:10 AM on December 6, 2011


My non-medical instinct would be "yes, but not as quickly." It would take more time to accumulate that trauma from checks than punches, but it would happen.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:14 AM on December 6, 2011


I have two kids in minor hockey and I find the fighting repugnant. The argument that it's necessary is moronic. Is fighting allowed in American Football? Rugby League? Ozzie Football? Lacrosse? Field hockey?

Proper refereeing using replays would end fighting overnight. But the NHL is afraid of that because it might 'slow the game down'. As if going to a fucking commercial break every time play is stopped didn't slow it down enough.

It's all about $$. Nothing more.
posted by unSane at 7:14 AM on December 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


(A few assault charges laid for egregious penalities wouldn't do any harm either)
posted by unSane at 7:15 AM on December 6, 2011


(Of course then we'd have to put up with Don Cherry whining about it, so maybe wait until he dies).
posted by unSane at 7:16 AM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mental image formed of Dirk Bogarde chasing a hockey puck; read article; came back enlightened.

The question of what is and isn't acceptable regarding physicality in sports is twisted to all get-out, and New York, home of the NY Times, is leading the pack.

In New York, a city with a long history of boxing--stretching back to legendary bare knuckle bouts like that between Yankee Sullivan and Tom Hyer in 1860--regulated boxing is legal, of course. So, too, is professional hockey. But guess what isn't legal, even though it's one of the fastest growing sports right now? You got it. MMA.

Apparently, an alderman viewed a video of a ground-and-pound several years back, sweat bullets and lost bladder control, and stymied efforts to allow UFC bouts. Currently, the UFC is fighting the ban with a lawsuit. New York is one of only two states that bans the UFC, despite the fact that it's a safer sport--in terms of injuries, but also concussions, which are almost non-existent--than pro hockey, NFL football, or modern Marquess of Queensberry rules-based boxing. It's all about speed, reflexes, and strategy; it's an athletic, multidimensional sport that puts a premium on safety and low violence.

New York, get with the program. Legalize MMA.
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:17 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hello, Mr Bidini? Meet the pot, kettle.
posted by docgonzo at 7:18 AM on December 6, 2011


Oops, the Sullivan/Hyer bout took place in Still Pond, Maryland. But both fighters were New Yorkers.
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:19 AM on December 6, 2011


I don't remember in which of the three parts the author talks about this, but I was really struck at the unreality of how the NHL allows fighting when it was described as the equivalent of having an NFL team respond to a hard hit on a quarterback by sending in a tough guy from the sidelines and having the referees stand around while two guys battle it out with bare fists on live TV. Hockey can be beautiful to watch; there's no reason to mar it with this kind of brawling.

It's a sad series to read, but very worth it.
posted by Forktine at 7:24 AM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


their job is to play physically

Playing physically is fine...you still have your helmet on, you're a moving target, etc. Fights involve removing gloves, standing at boxing position and bare fist punching at the head. I mean, come on! You can enforce by checking, illegal stick use, etc - why allow a situation that makes it EASIER to pummel someone directly in the face or head with a bare fist?
posted by spicynuts at 7:24 AM on December 6, 2011


Whatever thoughts I might have on hockey or violence, all I can come back to is the waste of this promising young man's life at age 28. He deserved more. He deserved better.

.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 7:25 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Times also had a Q&A yesterday with former enforcer Todd Fedoruk.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 7:28 AM on December 6, 2011


their job is to play physically

Let's not be disingenuous about this. Their job is also to punch somebody in the head as punishment for that person getting too physical with somebody else on their team. The fact that this is tolerated (and hockey's the only team sport where it is, to my knowledge) is grotesque.
posted by mhoye at 7:46 AM on December 6, 2011


Playing physically is fine...you still have your helmet on, you're a moving target, etc. Fights involve removing gloves, standing at boxing position and bare fist punching at the head

At the speeds they travel at, I think "physical play" is still the bigger threat of concussion, helmets or no. I was at a conference earlier this year that discussed hockey helmets; they don't actually don't offer the level of protection people assume they do. They're designed for impacts that come from straight on, and do not offer very good protection for "rotating-motion" impacts which are very common in hockey.
posted by Hoopo at 7:54 AM on December 6, 2011


I read that series, and I think the thing that disgusted me most was the photo of Boogard and his brother teaching a fighting workshop for 12-18 year old players. If you are a parent who thinks this is okay, I have nothing to say to you.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:03 AM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


The workshop photo reminded me of some of the interviews with (U.S.) Southern highschool football players in this Frontline documentary. The driving force seems to be the same - rural areas where teenage boys' sports have become such a cultural obsession, and the potential rewards for statistically-unlikely 'big league success' are so great, that parents and other adults are completely blinded to health and even moral implications.

It seems that, at least for some families hockey:Alberta::footbal:Arkansas.
posted by Wylla at 8:08 AM on December 6, 2011


You punch another player, your career ends. It's intuitive and offers great results.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:09 AM on December 6, 2011


As long as boxing is legal, it's going to be hard to argue that it is crazy to have one player punch out another player, and as long as fans enjoy fights and teams use fights as an important part of game strategy, it won't matter what your argument is.

Yes, there are fighting penalties in hockey, but fighting penalties are not designed to prevent fights. A penalty designed to prevent fights would be something like "Fighters will sit out the next 80 games without pay." Current penalties exist only to give the fighters time to cool off after a fight and to ensure that very expensive players aren't punched right out of the season by cheap goons.
posted by pracowity at 8:13 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


You punch another player, your career ends. It's intuitive and offers great results.

Ah, the Metafilter Community Sporting Insight Brigade is out (motto: "If these stupid jocks were as smart as us, we wouldn't have to patronize you."). Now that we've eliminated fighting, what stops dirty players from taking out your best player? The problem isn't as much the Derek Boogaards as it is the Matt Cookes and Ulf Samulessons of the world, players who consistently act to injure other players. Without the threat of an ass-kicking, what's to stop them? You can say you'll ban them, but hockey has proven itself incapable of penalizing dirty play in a consistent and sensible way. Things may be changing for the better with Brendan Shanahan, but they're never going to suspend every dirty player at once.

It's all about $$. Nothing more.

Right, because there's no fighting in hockey until you get to the NHL level.
posted by yerfatma at 8:15 AM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


yerfatma, I didn't call anyone stupid, but if you argument is that hockey can't have rules because hockey has proven itself incapable of applying rules, then I might change my mind.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:17 AM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Previously. If you watch, you are complicit.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:23 AM on December 6, 2011


As long as boxing is legal

Boxing is legal. Bare-knuckle boxing is illegal, and has been for decades.
posted by Gordion Knott at 8:25 AM on December 6, 2011


Now that we've eliminated fighting, what stops dirty players from taking out your best player?

If only there were some uniformed officials and an officiating body that could deal with this, as they do in every other sporting league in the entire world.
posted by unSane at 8:28 AM on December 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


Bettman's response “There isn’t a lot of data, and the experts who we talked to, who consult with us, think that it’s way premature to be drawing any conclusions at this point,” is straight out of the climate change denier handbook. And the nytimes was denied access to these "experts" for this series.
posted by minkll at 8:33 AM on December 6, 2011


The Shame of the State of Hockey: Minneapolis writer Nick Coleman on Boogaard and the NHL.
posted by COBRA! at 8:33 AM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Right, because there's no fighting in hockey until you get to the NHL level.

I am saying that the NHL's refusal to even engage with this subject is about $$.

Much of the fighting in other leagues (eg Junior A) is simply trickle down: the NHL defines the way the game is played and what is tolerated on the ice.

Fighting isn't tolerated in Women's hockey, college hockey or olympic hockey. It works out just fine.
posted by unSane at 8:34 AM on December 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


From that Nick Coleman piece:
Bettman also told The Times that “there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming appetite or desire” among the league and its fans to stop the carnage. Nero said the same thing when he was asked to stop feeding Christians to the lions. Gary Bettman is a disgrace.
posted by unSane at 8:37 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also related, previously
posted by k5.user at 8:38 AM on December 6, 2011


I love hockey, and admittedly enjoy the fighting aspect as well. It's a tough game and softening it would be detrimental. The one thing I don't like is the relatively recent (20 years?) idea of each team having an 'enforcer' with minimal hockey skills dedicated to the task. So-called star players shouldn't be immune from taking a body check...it's part of they game they choose to play. Neither enforcers nor preferential calls from refs should be necessary.

Proper refereeing using replays would end fighting overnight

Can you expand on this?
posted by rocket88 at 8:41 AM on December 6, 2011


Bettman went on to add that there is no evidence smoking causes cancer, opined that former FEMA head Mike Brown had done a "heckuva job" during Katrina, and wished OJ success in finding the real killers.

Christ almighty, I can't say enough how much I hate this "protect the brand at all costs" mentality we see in sports commissioners.

For Derek Boogaard and many others:

.
posted by lord_wolf at 8:45 AM on December 6, 2011


The excuse for fighting is that it's necessary to prevent dirty play from injuring star players.

This is the job of the referees and the league, not the players.

There is not other professional sport on earth where players are supposed to maintain discipline by the use of physical violence on members of the opposing team.
posted by unSane at 8:46 AM on December 6, 2011


"A few assault charges laid for egregious penalities wouldn't do any harm either"

Generally one can't bring lawsuits or prosecutions for assaults during sporting events; you're considered to have taken on the risk by agreeing to play. (Otherwise people couldn't box.) We really do rely on rules and officiating to enforce a reasonable standard of behavior; the sporting field is a law-enforcement-free zone.

(When I was a teenager a kid in a nearby high school hockey league late-checked another player and permanently paralyzed him. It turned into a lawsuit right out of a torts textbook -- can you bring a lawsuit if the penalty happened after the whistle was blown? As I recall there was some settlement with the various insurance companies, so it wasn't litigated. This is also why a lot of school districts don't sponsor a hockey team -- the insurance is far too expensive because of the rate of serious injuries. Football's expensive too, but hockey is more expensive, and -- in most of the U.S. -- not popular enough to justify that level of expense, even in wealthy districts. Kids play club hockey instead, which may be worse, since state school sports leagues typically enforce somewhat more strict rules than club teams do.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:49 AM on December 6, 2011


I love hockey, I love fights, I'm not sure they should be in the same sport. Fights should be reserved for serious matters. The refs and officials need to step up their game.
Someone floated the idea of shortening the bench and having just 3 lines. I think there's something in that. Bringing back soft pads would also help.
posted by captaincrouton at 8:51 AM on December 6, 2011


There is not other professional sport on earth where players are supposed to maintain discipline by the use of physical violence on members of the opposing team.

The thing is, those other sports leagues exist, and people have the choice to watch them as well. With those choices available, the NHL doesn't ban fighting because the NHL doesn't think people will watch hockey without it.

They might be right about that.
posted by mhoye at 8:53 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


If only there were some uniformed officials and an officiating body that could deal with this, as they do in every other sporting league in the entire world.

Really? Name the effective ones. MLB is a capricious mess, the various FAs aren't consistent (and FIFA is a joke), the NBA has become unbelievably heavy-handed, the NFL likewise . . . I'm struggling to think of the league you're talking about.

There is not other professional sport on earth where players are supposed to maintain discipline by the use of physical violence on members of the opposing team

Right. Baseballs are never thrown at other people, NFL players never try to intimidate one another and people like Charles Oakley never played basketball. The problem I have with these threads is they're populated by people who either do not watch professional sports or appreciate them in theory. You all seem insistent on drowning a baby to save every ounce of that precious bath water.

More over, this End of Western Civilization take on hockey seems misguided: firstly because hockey long since cracked down on real brawling by requiring tie downs on jerseys and adding the Third Man in Rule. Secondly, it seems to me brain injuries and damage are much more likely to result from the constant hits from checking rather than the odd left hook.
posted by yerfatma at 8:59 AM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


It would take more time to accumulate that trauma from checks than punches, but it would happen.

Don Cherry has something sensible to say about this: ban rigid shoulder pads. "Look at that - smack - it's not a pad, it's a weapon!" With soft pads, players who hit as hard as they possibly could would break their own bones, a useful disincentive to trying to give the other guy a concussion. Tactics would change.

The same argument applies to boxing gloves; they produce fewer broken fingers and more brain trauma. It might be one reason why we see fewer concussions in MMA fights.

Stop the presses! Don Cherry said something sensible!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:02 AM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fighting isn't tolerated in Women's hockey, college hockey or olympic hockey. It works out just fine.

If you think "just fine" is an extremely boring product then, yes, it's working out just fine. Body Checking isn't even allowed. It is a penalty in women's ice hockey. That alone makes it completely incomparable to NHL hockey, especially when trying to discuss how fighting is a part of the game.

Trying to compare women's ice hockey or any other sport (like you are trying to do) to the NHL is pointless and makes no sense to do. They are different sports with many different rules and culture.

Fighting is tolerated in the NHL because of things that happen on the ice that the referee can't enforce. Legal, good hockey plays that a team just might not want happening to their star players. It's tolerated because of the momentum shifting impact it can have in a game. It's tolerated because there are guys willing to do it.

The one thing I'm happy about is that the day of the guy that can't play hockey and is just a big enforcer is dwindling to nothing. The defact-o heavyweights isn't needed because teams realized if they weren't all wasting a roster spot with that guy then no one would need one anymore.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:03 AM on December 6, 2011


It will be tolerated until it isn't. And then all the pearl clutching from the goon squad will look ridiculous.
posted by unSane at 9:06 AM on December 6, 2011


Why is fighting not necessary in the NFL for exactly the same reasons as are given for it in the NHL?
posted by unSane at 9:07 AM on December 6, 2011


Right. Baseballs are never thrown at other people, NFL players never try to intimidate one another and people like Charles Oakley never played basketball.

I can't speak to football or basketball, which I don't watch (except for college basketball), but in baseball, hitting a batter or aiming to do so, after a warning from the umps, will get the pitcher and often the manager ejected from the game. The umps don't stand around and watch the pitcher fire one at the batter, hit him, let him to the same to the next batter, and then send him to sit down for five minutes.

I went to some hockey games, men's and women's, when I was in college. I had friends on both teams. I never saw a gloves-off-refs-stand-around-and-wait-till-it's-over fight; I remember one fight, which was more of a shoving match, and both players were ejected from the game, not given a time penalty. The games were plenty popular.
posted by rtha at 9:16 AM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem I have with these threads is they're populated by people who either do not watch professional sports or appreciate them in theory.

Like I say, I have two kids in minor hockey and we regularly go to OHL games (our team were the 2011 OHL champions).

Making up reasons to discount the opinions of people you disagree earns you a two minute penalty for a dick move.
posted by unSane at 9:23 AM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the recent moral panic over hockey fighting is a few decades too late. What the Times articles don't tell you - appropriately enough, because the pieces are about Boogaard, not hockey fighting in general - is that enforcers are a dying breed. The game is too fast and too skilled, and the salary cap exerts too much pressure, to waste one or two roster spots on guys who don't contribute to non-fighting aspects of the game. My favorite team just waived its enforcer - who had appeared in only one game this season - and my second-favorite team hasn't had a brawler in at least five years.

We had this discussion in the thread on the blue after one of the players died this summer - Rypien, I think - but people underestimate how hard it would be to "remove" fighting from hockey. Fights happen regularly in leagues that ban them (another point not mentioned in any of these pieces), including the NCAA and Euro leagues; the penalties are just stiffer.

Why is hockey different from other sports? I don't know, but I'd look at the prevalence of fights and post-whistle scrums, in other leagues not tainted by the dread Canadian hockey culture, and suspect that maybe its something endemic to the sport, not a tack-on by greedy owners who want to profit off peoples' fists.
posted by downing street memo at 9:25 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Making up reasons to discount the opinions of people you disagree earns you a two minute penalty for a dick move.

But calling the people *you* disagree with "the goon squad" is okay?
posted by rocket88 at 9:27 AM on December 6, 2011


Secondly, it seems to me brain injuries and damage are much more likely to result from the constant hits from checking rather than the odd left hook.

Fighting in hockey literally involves trying to do as much damage to the other player's head as possible. Guys like Boogaard end up in hundreds of fights in the course of their career, and from the article it sounds like he had at least dozens of concussions. Why, in a sport that inherently has a decent risk of giving its players terrible Alzheimer's like brain problems, would you defend an aspect of the sport that serves no physical function other than to cause more brain injuries? It's like arguing that car racing leagues should make sure that there are enough fatal crashes to maintain interest with the fans.

Fighting is tolerated in the NHL because of things that happen on the ice that the referee can't enforce. Legal, good hockey plays that a team just might not want happening to their star players. It's tolerated because of the momentum shifting impact it can have in a game. It's tolerated because there are guys willing to do it.

It's tolerated because historically it has been tolerated. There's no reason that ice hockey needs to have a bare knuckle boxing component whereas a sport like Rugby doesn't when it has identical issues with rules that aren't enforced and is played by a bunch of guys who would probably sign up for being able to punch players from the other team in the face.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:28 AM on December 6, 2011


Sadly, gruesomely, appallingly apropos:

In The Game hockey card series is set to launch a special line of "Enforcers" cards in January. The recurring design motif on the cards is a splotchy bloodstain.

This is actually just crass and tone-deaf enough to actually move us past the kneejerk arguments about whether banning or better refereeing would end fighting or whether it's all about the money (no one who knows anything at all about hockey thinks that fights are the reason the Leafs sell out every home game). This cuts to the deeper culture of hockey.

Here's what I mean: This card series would've been conceived by the card company let's say a year or so back. It would've been photographed and designed and art directed even as the deaths of Boogaard and Wade Belak and Rick Rypien were making headlines across Canada. (Not sure how this has played out in the US, but it would've been a recurring lead story on every newscast on the TV set down at the suburban Toronto office of In the Game.) A production run ordered. Press releases prepared and released over the past couple of weeks. At no point presumably did anyone around the boardroom table at In the Game look at his colleagues and say, "Hey, guys, three enforcers died this summer and there's never been more scrutiny or ill will toward fighting in hockey. Should we maybe call off the special series? Or at least photoshop the bloodstains out of 'em?"

Same thing with the nightly sportscasts: the highlight reel always shows the fights and bonecrunching hits (same as they do in football and any other contact sport), and later in the broadcast maybe there'll be a little pattering, pandering discussion of whether the enforcer culture is bad for the game (and deadly for its practitioners). At least one panelist will likely make some faintly homophobic reference to toughness vs. softness.

When you see cognitive dissonance persisting on this scale, it is because the cultural assumptions are so deep that no amount of raw, brutal evidence will change the culture all by itself.

I really don't think the league makes that much money off a fight or two - even Don Cherry's Rock 'Em Sock 'Em videos are as much about big hits as punch-ups - but there's a deeper culture here, a tough-guy, hard-hitting, get-stitched-up-and-get-back-out-there thing that is integral to the game, at least as it's been played at the pro level for the last half century or so. From the moment bodychecking enters the game at midget level, you're told that a good team player takes the hit in the corner to dig out the puck. You aim for a couple of big hits early on to set the tone and gain momentum. You learn these things because they are actually good tactics for the game as currently conceived. Taking a big hit to dig a puck out of the corner does help score goals. At ice level and bench level and broadcast booth level, the enforcer's role is on a continuum with these defensible tactics.

I don't mean this as a defense of fighting, but I think the worries about stickplay replacing the punch up do begin from a truth: You can't just ban fighting and expect it to change the physical intensity of the game and obviate the perceived need for enforcers. It runs deeper than that. It can probably be dealt with, but it may take a generation. Culture changes slower than the rules do.
posted by gompa at 9:28 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


But calling the people *you* disagree with "the goon squad" is okay?

You wanna go? Let's go.
posted by unSane at 9:30 AM on December 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, wait.
posted by unSane at 9:30 AM on December 6, 2011


I love hockey, and have come to dearly wish that the league would get serious about the elimination of fighting.

Now that we've eliminated fighting, what stops dirty players from taking out your best player? The problem isn't as much the Derek Boogaards as it is the Matt Cookes and Ulf Samulessons of the world, players who consistently act to injure other players. Without the threat of an ass-kicking, what's to stop them?

The fact that the fans, the players, and the league itself have this attitude is what shocks me. Name me one other professional sport where the idea of letting the players police themselves is accepted - indeed seen as the only way? Is the NHL that full of incompetent people that they can't The NFL involves an incredible amount of physical play as well, and I don't see the players looking to "sort out" Suh from the Lions, for example. They rightly expect the league to deal with that.

Worth linking to again: The Code
posted by never used baby shoes at 9:31 AM on December 6, 2011


Two simple rule changes will eliminate enforcers from NHL hockey:

1. Shorter bench: Each team can dress 18 players instead of 20. There will be no room for unskilled goons.
2. Players receiving disciplinary suspensions for on-ice infractions remain part of the roster. The team will have one less player on the bench for the duration of the suspension.

Players like Boogaard wiould never be seen again in the NHL.
posted by rocket88 at 9:31 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


argh, should've reread. Should be "...that they can't manage their own league and take care of their players?"
posted by never used baby shoes at 9:32 AM on December 6, 2011


From the moment bodychecking enters the game at midget level, you're told that a good team player takes the hit in the corner to dig out the puck. You aim for a couple of big hits early on to set the tone and gain momentum. You learn these things because they are actually good tactics for the game as currently conceived. Taking a big hit to dig a puck out of the corner does help score goals. At ice level and bench level and broadcast booth level, the enforcer's role is on a continuum with these defensible tactics.

Cannot agree more with this. I think a lot of folks here who complain about hockey fights - but not all - don't understand how rough the game is even outside of the fights. It's not a giant leap from a hard, legal check into the boards, to a gloved punch in a post-whistle scrum, to a bout at center ice.
posted by downing street memo at 9:33 AM on December 6, 2011


The NFL involves an incredible amount of physical play as well, and I don't see the players looking to "sort out" Suh from the Lions

Again, not defending fighting in hockey, but have you ever heard an offensive lineman describe in detail what goes on out of sight inside a big pile-up, especially after a fumble? Shit does get sorted out on the field in football, it just doesn't make the highlight reels.
posted by gompa at 9:35 AM on December 6, 2011


Is the NHL that full of incompetent people

No. Hockey is about a hundred times faster than American football. It's just not a useful comparison.
posted by downing street memo at 9:36 AM on December 6, 2011


1. Shorter bench: Each team can dress 18 players instead of 20. There will be no room for unskilled goons.
I can't think of a single team in the NHL that gives a sweater to an unskilled goon every night. Those days are gone.
60 more guys without a sweater throughout the league. In what way would that help advance the game? The NHPLA would throw a fit.

2. Players receiving disciplinary suspensions for on-ice infractions remain part of the roster. The team will have one less player on the bench for the duration of the suspension.
No one associated with the rule making in the NHL would ever vote to pass this idea. That's talking about severely altering the future of the on-ice product for a team based on the actions of one player. It barely has anything to do with fighting.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:43 AM on December 6, 2011


No. Hockey is about a hundred times faster than American football. It's just not a useful comparison.

To underscore, here's a couple of key passages from Stephen Marche's excellent recent Walrus essay, "The Meaning of Hockey":
Two features distinguish hockey from all other sports: its peculiar relationship to violence, and its pace, which is just beyond the organic capacities of human biology. Hockey’s speed is far more intense than that of other team sports; the game is akin to race car driving, in the way it requires a human fusion with technology. Skates create a speed of play beyond what our bodies have evolved to handle. Which is why no one can play the game for more than a few minutes at a time.

[. . .]

This is one of the few sports in the world where you can punch an opponent in the face and continue playing. The first organized game ever played with rules and referees, in Montreal in 1875, is remembered for its “rough play.” The fact that nobody, not even Don Cherry, can distinguish between what violence is acceptable and what is unacceptable comes down to a question of spirit rather than any refined legal definition. In Native versions of shinny and lacrosse, violence was inherent to the game, but as the spontaneous overflow of the powerful emotions conjured by the contest. Which is why no one complained, or had any right to complain, when injured. It is when hockey’s modernity, its speed and technical mastery, disguises itself in these sacred masks that a lie is perpetrated. That is to say, when players deliberately attempt to give themselves an advantage, to harm another player, the spirit of hockey is violated. But it’s all a question of spirit, and so it must be vague. When Matt Cooke nailed Marc Savard in the head with his shoulder, the foul was not serious enough to warrant two minutes in the penalty box. Nonetheless, he made himself a hockey pariah, an assassin outcast from the community of warriors.
The difference between a cheap shot and a fair fight is not a minor one; it is absolute among the game's most devoted players, coaches, observers and fans. It's probably as good a point as any to begin a real conversation about how to eliminate tragic tales like Derek Boogaard's from the game forever.
posted by gompa at 9:44 AM on December 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't understand people arguing that because hockey is fast and rough even without gloves-off fights, that means you can't eliminate gloves-off fights. You can. They're not allowed in college or Olympic games. There's still plenty of speed and checking.
posted by rtha at 9:44 AM on December 6, 2011


I posted this comment at sportsfilter but see the story is up here as well so what the heck: This is an excellent series which I've been reading for the last few days. I don't recall if it is mentioned in the article, but no surprise the recent news that Boogard's brain shows advanced Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

It is really worth reading the short journal or mini-biography Boogard wrote shortly before his death. The Times has a eccentrically-formatted facsimile of it as well as a transcription (click the "text" tab). It is such a vivid account of growing up on the Prairies in youth hockey culture - it is rare to see such an unlaundered, unedited, so intensely naive account of that way of life. I found myself completely drawn into it - it's comparable to another Canadian classic of working-class memoirs: Roger Caron's Go-Boy.

The facsimile is perhaps a sad window into disordered thinking.

Anyway, Boogard had a lot of fights in Junior and took a lot of shots to the head before he learned how to really use his size. With his limited ice time I wonder if he is the key case of CTE being caused by hockey fights versus the repetitive head-smacked-into-boards scenario. It seems in the NFL that it is the routine smacking of heads - subconcussion trauma - which may be causing the problem as much as the big impact concussions. I guess what I am saying is, the means by which CTE is produced in Hockey is not yet understood. Boogard's fate suggests fighting, but Rick Rypien's fate - a fast skater who could really play, got significant ice time all through junior, and delivered a lot of hits along the boards as well as fought a fair bit - suggests it is not necessarily that simple.
posted by Rumple at 9:44 AM on December 6, 2011


Name me one other professional sport where the idea of letting the players police themselves is accepted

Baseball.
posted by yerfatma at 9:48 AM on December 6, 2011


Again, not defending fighting in hockey, but have you ever heard an offensive lineman describe in detail what goes on out of sight inside a big pile-up, especially after a fumble? Shit does get sorted out on the field in football, it just doesn't make the highlight reels.

The major difference for me from the self policing behavior in other sports (throwing a fastball at a guy's torso in baseball, biting somebody at the bottom of a pile up in football, or stomping on someone with your cleats in rugby), is that the self-policing behavior in the NHL directly contributes to causing permanent lifelong injuries like brain damage.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:48 AM on December 6, 2011


Hockey is about a hundred times faster than American football. It's just not a useful comparison.

So because the game moves too fast for the ref to catch everything, we have to allow the players to sort things out?

I play hockey. I know exactly what goes on in the corners, in front of the crease, and in the scrums. I've been blindsided a few times. I've been in hockey fights.

I also used to play rugby, which is a fast moving high contact sport. I know what goes on in the scrum, the ruck, and the maul. With only one referee on a field of 30 guys hitting, kickng and grabbing each other, we never had a single fight.

So what's the difference? It's a culture thing. In hockey, there seems to be an accepted belief that the refs and the league won't or can't deliver the appropriate punishment that doesn't seem to be present in other leagues.
posted by never used baby shoes at 9:53 AM on December 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


is that the self-policing behavior in the NHL directly contributes to causing permanent lifelong injuries like brain damage.

Yeah, this is not really established fat. Like Rumple mentions above, Boogaard was not a particularly good hockey player; he didn't have any ice sense to speak of, didn't know how to (or couldn't) avoid checks. I never saw him in junior, but he got hit a LOT in the NHL.
posted by downing street memo at 9:53 AM on December 6, 2011


That's talking about severely altering the future of the on-ice product for a team based on the actions of one player. It barely has anything to do with fighting.

It's very rarely the actions of one player. It's the actions of the GM who signs the "player" and the coach who sends him on the ice with instructions to start a fight. We need a rule change to change those behaviours.
posted by rocket88 at 9:55 AM on December 6, 2011


Fighting isn't tolerated in Women's hockey,

What? There are absolutely nasty fights in women's hockey, and all the dirty play you can handle. I used to drink beers with a friend of mine and her teammates who played hockey in high school --they fought, took cheap shots, pulled hair, all kinds of shit. Fighting is against the rules, yes, same in men's hockey. People playing competitive sports break the rules sometimes if they think it will gain them an advantage.

If you think "just fine" is an extremely boring product then, yes

Olympic hockey is not boring. Olympic women's hockey was only boring because Canada and the US were absurdly good compared to the competition and were blowing out the other teams by 10 goals or more.
posted by Hoopo at 10:04 AM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's very rarely the actions of one player. It's the actions of the GM who signs the "player" and the coach who sends him on the ice with instructions to start a fight. We need a rule change to change those behaviours.

So you're saying that the rule will only apply for guys that fight? You said "disciplinary suspensions for on-ice infractions" that covers a lot of entirely different things.
I still don't think it's a good idea if it only applies for fighting, and there is no way the GM's would approve it, but it makes slightly more sense.

And staged fights? Those are almost as much of a thing of the past as the 1 goon per roster.

A side note:
The instigator rule being created in 1992(?) and then being very much enforced the past four seasons has changed fighting in hockey quite a bit. You need a willing partner to fight. If you don't have one then you're most likely getting a 2minute+5minute+10minute penalties.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:07 AM on December 6, 2011


Olympic hockey is not boring. Olympic women's hockey was only boring because Canada and the US were absurdly good compared to the competition and were blowing out the other teams by 10 goals or more.

I think women's hockey is boring. If it had the same rules as men's hockey then I think it would be better. That doesn't matter though. It is it's own game.

That's my whole point. All these other sports don't need to be compared to the NHL. It's almost foolish to even do so.
Let the NHL be what it is and alter itself based on what is going on internally instead of making comparisons to other sports that can simply not be compared, even when they are using the same equipment, on the same surface.

Also, I wasn't referring to Olympic hockey when I made that statement but I normally find that pretty boring too. The last winter Olympics were the first time in a long time I remember the games being entertaining and it was a nice treat.

--

Just so I'm not misunderstood, I'd like to say I don't think fighting is necessary for an entertaining hockey product but I do think the physicality is needed.
When the physicality is there then the occasional fighting is probably going to go along with it. That should just be accepted. Over the past few season the NHL has relegated fighting to a pretty acceptable place.
A lot of people obviously find the fighting very entertaining though. Do a search on youtube for hockey fights and see how many views they have compared to goal highlight reels. It's barbaric, yes, but look at how fast people stand up out of their seat at a game when the gloves go down.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:24 AM on December 6, 2011


is that the self-policing behavior in the NHL directly contributes to causing permanent lifelong injuries like brain damage.

Yeah, this is not really established fat. Like Rumple mentions above, Boogaard was not a particularly good hockey player; he didn't have any ice sense to speak of, didn't know how to (or couldn't) avoid checks. I never saw him in junior, but he got hit a LOT in the NHL.


At the very least bare knuckle fighting directly causes facial and hand fractures, which by themselves are much more serious than damage caused by routine self-policing in other sports. And if a blow has enough force to break bones, it has enough force to jostle your brain around inside your head, which is what causes brain injuries. Concussions do not need to be as obvious as causing a player to completely drop unconscious, so even if a fight seems like it is not doing serious irreparable brain damage, it still can. Concussions are a serious problem in any contact sport, but defending a practice that purposely applies brunt trauma to a player's unprotected head by saying that they will probably get brain damage from some other cause makes absolutely no sense. Let's say that for most people who participate in hockey fights, there is no permanent damage, but for some people it will it result in the debilitating effects of CTE that they would not normally have had without participating in fights. How many people is it worth giving brain damage to continue allowing fighting as a routine practice in hockey?
posted by burnmp3s at 10:26 AM on December 6, 2011


Fighting is a side issue. It's something that needs attention, but it's not the problem that causes the tragedies like Boogaard, or Rick Rypen or even Eric Lindros (whom I really wouldn't want to be at 50).

Most players don't have the catastrophic brain injuries from waltzing around on skates with another guy, most bad concussions start with a hard but legal hit, or a cheap shot, often away from the puck. Enforcers are the guys doing most of these checks, so naturally, they're the ones with the highest level of injury.

It's checking, trips, body hits, legal or otherwise that cause the major injuries. Little kids will often scrap in hockey, with almost no injury, but I've seen kids put in hospital with a cross-check into the boards.
posted by bonehead at 10:27 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's checking, trips, body hits, legal or otherwise that cause the major injuries.

And cause the fights too, which is why I keep saying this is a referring/league problem.
posted by unSane at 10:35 AM on December 6, 2011


Concussions are a serious problem in any contact sport, but defending a practice that purposely applies brunt trauma to a player's unprotected head by saying that they will probably get brain damage from some other cause makes absolutely no sense

There may be a couple of people defending fighting here, but I think you're overstating the impact of fighting versus regular "hard hockey hits" in causing brain damage. Most of these enforcers aren't just known for fighting, they also crunch people into the boards, hard, or level people in open ice with checks. Fighting certainly isn't doing anyone any good, but personally I doubt if banning fighting is going to impact the number of brain injuries in hockey in any significant way. It's worth banning fighting for any number of reasons, though.

It's checking, trips, body hits, legal or otherwise that cause the major injuries.

This.
posted by Hoopo at 10:39 AM on December 6, 2011


The problem with thinking this is about fighting---something the junior and minor leagues have been putting the brakes on for a generation or more---is that stopping fighting doesn't stop cumulative brain injuries. Getting refs to hand out more major game misconducts isn't and doesn't stop it.

Better equipment doesn't seem to stop it either. A head hitting a hard object is subjected to more than 200G of acceleration on impact. Traumatic brain injury occurs well below this level. Helmets can deal with 90-100Gs of acceleration. It may not be possible to provide a "safe" hockey helmet at all, for any level of body contact. That's the problem.
posted by bonehead at 10:42 AM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Look, I'm willing to buy that being the kind of player Boogaard was has a high probability of leading to concussions/CTE. As a lot of folks have said, he wasn't a good hockey player at all; he got hit often (an essential hockey skill is learning to avoid checks), it took a long time before he learned to use his size well in fights.

The problem with extending the Boogaard tragedy to condemn all fighting in hockey is twofold:

a) not all hockey fighters are like Boogaard. Many can actually play the game. And these categories aren't static; many 3rd-4th line players fight once or twice a year, against smaller opponents, and "in the heat of the moment", so there's not time to get your feet set or land any really hard blows.

b) hockey fighters like Boogaard are slowly disappearing from the game. Get in your time machine and go back to 1995; the average hockey fan could probably name 9 or 10 feared enforcers. Now? I can think of one or two off the top of my head.

In short, what I'm saying is that there's no evidence that Rule 56, per se, leads to CTE. And that, because there's never been an NHL without fighting, we really have no idea how changing the game in that way would change the product on the ice.
posted by downing street memo at 10:52 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a counterpoint to the goons and brain injury thing, then look at Georges Laraque. Until recently he was one of the toughest fighters in the game (and a decent player as well). Now he is the deputy leader of Canada's Green Party and advocate for veganism. He has an interesting blog.

I know brain injuries and susceptibility to them vary person to person, so Laraque proves nothing in that regard, but I do reiterate my point (supported by the NFL data) that is may be repetitive sub-concussion blows (as NFL lineman experience constantly) that do the CTE damage and not the relatively rare major concussion. In Boogard's case, probably because he was a clumsy player and took a lot of shots to the head as well - he vividly describes the effects. The role of fighting in CTE vs other impacts in CTE is an open question.

I don't like fighting much, but I do like data, so I hope they really figure this out soon. Simply banning fighting might feel good but not address the problem and then there may be another generation of brain damaged players.
posted by Rumple at 10:58 AM on December 6, 2011


Now he is the deputy leader of Canada's Green Party and advocate for veganism.

I don't read that as suggesting that his brain is intact.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:05 AM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


To amplify Rumple's point, one of the poster children for cumulative injury, Lindros who played a physical game, had about 70 penalty minutes per season. A high profile enforcer, say Tie Domi, would average 200-300 per season. Sidney Crosby, just coming back from such an injury, never fights. I'm sure he gets checked a lot though.
posted by bonehead at 11:13 AM on December 6, 2011


Most players don't have the catastrophic brain injuries from waltzing around on skates with another guy

I would say more of the risk would be in the part where a 200 pound guy hits another guy directly in the head with his fist as hard as he can, rather than the circling around part.

Enforcers are the guys doing most of these checks, so naturally, they're the ones with the highest level of injury.

But they hardly ever play compared to players on the team. The stats quoted in the article from the post said during a 277 game stretch where Boogaard racked up over 500 minutes of penalties, he only spent an average of five minutes per game on the ice.

It's checking, trips, body hits, legal or otherwise that cause the major injuries.

And that conjecture is based on what exactly? I agree that there are non-fighting causes for CTE, but that is not proof that fighting itself does not cause significant damage. Even if normal play in hockey is the main cause of things like CTE, that does not mean that fighting is not a significant secondary cause or that it doesn't contribute at all to the overall damage.

The role of fighting in CTE vs other impacts in CTE is an open question.

Right. So we know these horrible brain injuries are being caused in players of this sport, in huge numbers. Why would the response to that be to wait until we know for sure what exact kinds of brain trauma are causing these injuries to make any significant changes to the sport? It seems like the potential terrible results of cracking down on fighting if it doesn't help prevent brain injuries would be much less terrible than the terrible results of letting fighting continue if it does cause brain injuries. To me the argument that fighting is so great that it's worth risking the potential for it to cause serious brain injuries is not very compelling.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:22 AM on December 6, 2011


And that conjecture is based on what exactly?

It's no different from your conjecture that hockey fighting causes CTE.
posted by downing street memo at 11:35 AM on December 6, 2011


The NHL has reported that 26% of concussions for this season [2011] are accidental, 44% legal [checks], 17% illegal [contact], and 8% fight-related; the remaining 5% are undefined because no videos of the incidents exist.

So call it 1 in 5 concussions relate to fighting. Note that I'm not defending fighting at all. I am saying that if focus on that, as many have done in-thread, you miss 80% of the problem.
posted by bonehead at 11:35 AM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


The problem with thinking this is about fighting---something the junior and minor leagues have been putting the brakes on for a generation or more---is that stopping fighting doesn't stop cumulative brain injuries. Getting refs to hand out more major game misconducts isn't and doesn't stop it.

Better equipment doesn't seem to stop it either. A head hitting a hard object is subjected to more than 200G of acceleration on impact. Traumatic brain injury occurs well below this level. Helmets can deal with 90-100Gs of acceleration. It may not be possible to provide a "safe" hockey helmet at all, for any level of body contact. That's the problem.


Quoted for truth. This is why people keep saying hockey can't be compared to other sports. The players move too fast and they are constantly waving sticks at each other. The hits suffered in a brief fist fight are dwarfed by those experienced in legal play.
posted by Demogorgon at 11:39 AM on December 6, 2011


And that conjecture is based on what exactly?

It's no different from your conjecture that hockey fighting causes CTE.


I'm claiming that hockey fighting causes brain impacts, and that those impacts could contribute to the CTE that is proven to have been caused by playing hockey. They might not contribute at all, I don't know, but my point is that there is risk there and you have to at least evaluate that risk and decide if it's worth it. That's different than dismissing those risks on the completely unverified idea that although CTE is caused by hockey, it is caused entirely by other types of brain injury in hockey rather than by fighting. To me, if you don't know the probable health outcomes of a dangerous activity, it's evidence that you should probably stop the dangerous activity rather than continue doing it because you aren't sure if something terrible will end up happening.

So call it 1 in 5 concussions relate to fighting. Note that I'm not defending fighting at all. I am saying that if focus on that, as many have done in-thread, you miss 80% of the problem.

20% seems like a big part of the problem to me. If drunk driving caused 20% of fatal car crashes, would it make sense to argue in favor of purposely allowing drunk driving because most people die in car crashes for unrelated reasons? If fighting has any negative effects at all, then the question is how much positive are you getting to offset the negative. For me, if the negative possibly involves people getting permanent brain damage and the positive is just allowing fighting in a sport that can still work without fighting, then that is enough to try to prevent fighting.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:59 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem, as this thread demonstrates, is that fighting is a red-flag issue. It's all that gets talked about, while the real problem goes untreated.

Fighting in hockey is something that's visible, high-profile and gets a lot of people worked up. Cumulative brain injury in hockey is only peripherally related to fighting. Placing the blame for mental damage on fighting ignores the broader issue, and will continue to result in disabled ex-hockey players. If you want to fix that problem, arguing about fighting is at best a minor consideration. Better helmets, rules for allowable checks (or even no-contact) are things should be being discussed and are getting shouted out by the fighting "debate".

While reducing fighting may be important, things like Rule 48 penalizing (what used to be legal) contact to the head are much, much more important to focus on from a harm reduction standpoint.
posted by bonehead at 12:17 PM on December 6, 2011


Better helmets, rules for allowable checks (or even no-contact) are things should be being discussed and are getting shouted out by the fighting "debate".

I don't believe it's either/or. The two things are closely related. The clowns running the NHL are the problem, and they simply refuse to tackle this stuff because it might cost them money. As a result, NHL hockey remains a dirty, under-refereed game that occasionally gets massively over-refereed as a knee jerk response to an individual incident. Then everyone moans about how play is affected and go back the the status quo.

I absolutely agree that the rules and officiation of checking need to be tightened up, especially hits from behind and hits off the puck. The league should come down like a ton of bricks on this stuff. There's always going to be stuff that the refs don't catch which is why I said upthread that video replay needs to be used to monitor behaviour the refs can't see.

It's fascinating to go to an NHL game and an OHL game back to back. The OHL game is about ten times more fun because it doesn't take three hours, the arena is smaller and the guys play like it's playoff time the whole season because the scouts are up in the stands. And there are genuinely local players too. There are fights, but not that many.
posted by unSane at 12:36 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is one hockey fight I would pay to see and that is the one where Ron McLean finally grabs Cherry by the tie on Coach's Corner and tells the ignorant old blowhard to shut the fuck up.
posted by unSane at 12:38 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's fascinating to go to an NHL game and an OHL game back to back. The OHL game is about ten times more fun because it doesn't take three hours, the arena is smaller and the guys play like it's playoff time the whole season because the scouts are up in the stands. And there are genuinely local players too. There are fights, but not that many.


Owen Sound - your local junior team, if I remember correctly - has played 31 games this season; they've had 28 fighting majors. (according to HockeyFights.com). That is also the OHL median. The WHL median is 31.5, and the median in the Q is 23. All of those are dramatically higher than the NHL median of 10.5 fights this season (most teams have played 26 games, or thereabouts).

Rarely do NHL games take longer than two and a half hours these days, barring overtime or The Gimmick.

I don't mean to get fighty about the specifics of your comment, but every time fighting in the NHL is discussed, there's a lot of outdated notions of how much fighting actually goes on in the game. I think some of those notions feed into folks' opinions about the state of the game. It cannot be emphasized enough: fighting for fighting's sake is a small and diminishing part of the elite levels of the sport.
posted by downing street memo at 1:11 PM on December 6, 2011


There does seem to be a culture that thinks fighting and checking, agressive bodily intervention, is a fun part of the game though--things like Rock em Sock em, or Hockey Fights. Even if there is less fighting, or more finesse game, what do we do with this audience
posted by PinkMoose at 1:21 PM on December 6, 2011


It cannot be emphasized enough: fighting for fighting's sake is a small and diminishing part of the elite levels of the sport.

...supported by data. In the 1980s, rates were above 1 fight per game. Last season it was just above 1 fight every 2 games, and this season, it's less than one fight every 2 games.
posted by entropone at 1:39 PM on December 6, 2011


fighting for fighting's sake is a small
If the median level is 1/2 fight per game, that's not small. It may be diminishing, but it's not small. I'd be shocked if the median number for any other major American sport is more than 1/2 fight per season. (And I watch a lot of non-hockey sports.)

That said, fighting is obviously not a major cause of brain damage; whether the cause is repetition (lots of little hits) or intensity (small numbers of big hits) the average game has both of those in spades. Which may be scarier for fans, because fighting can be extracted from the game without killing the patient (NFL QBs are protected without fighting) but those sorts of hits may be impossible to stop (in either hockey or American football) without radically changing the essential nature of the game.
posted by louie at 1:57 PM on December 6, 2011


Sorry, that should be 1/2 fight per team per season.
posted by louie at 1:57 PM on December 6, 2011


Rarely do NHL games take longer than two and a half hours these days, barring overtime or The Gimmick.

It's still skull-crushingly dull.

All of those are dramatically higher than the NHL median of 10.5 fights this season

That's assuming they are officiated similarly.
posted by unSane at 2:03 PM on December 6, 2011


The question to me isn't whether fighting causes brain damage. It's whether fighting has any place in the sport.
posted by unSane at 2:04 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The NFL involves an incredible amount of physical play as well, and I don't see the players looking to "sort out" Suh from the Lions

Again, not defending fighting in hockey, but have you ever heard an offensive lineman describe in detail what goes on out of sight inside a big pile-up, especially after a fumble? Shit does get sorted out on the field in football, it just doesn't make the highlight reels.
posted by limeonaire at 2:09 PM on December 6, 2011


The NFL involves an incredible amount of physical play as well, and I don't see the players looking to "sort out" Suh from the Lions

Again, not defending fighting in hockey, but have you ever heard an offensive lineman describe in detail what goes on out of sight inside a big pile-up, especially after a fumble? Shit does get sorted out on the field in football, it just doesn't make the highlight reels.


Yeah, the NFL has also been under fire for traumatic brain injury among its players. While there's less visible fighting there than in the NHL, where it's front and center, both leagues have a long way to go toward keeping players' brains safe.
posted by limeonaire at 2:18 PM on December 6, 2011


It's still skull-crushingly dull.

A lot of people would disagree with that. While I like to watch the odd WHL game, it's not even close to watching a talented squad of NHLers playing a skill game. I could see how you might have come to your position here, being located in the heart of "Leafs Nation" with its recent history of mediocre hockey and love of the "gritty", "physical", rock 'em sock 'em style of play. But even that's changing, I hate to say it but Toronto is experiencing some success with a more skill-oriented game and are...actually kind of fun to watch sometimes. I just threw up a little. Dion Phaneuf could do well to tone down the murderous intent hits a little though.
posted by Hoopo at 4:27 PM on December 6, 2011


I wasn't talking about the hockey, just the interminable ad-breaks which are vaguely tolerable when you are watching HNIC and skimming MeFi, but completely ruin the flow of the game when you are watching it live.
posted by unSane at 5:09 PM on December 6, 2011


what a fantastic piece of reporting. made even more poignant, ironically, by the built-in-videos of the fights.
posted by cacofonie at 7:53 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


unSane, just have a buddy who PVR's it. Bring beer.
I am guilty of loving a sport that mixes ballet and violence. Every game though, I worry about these men that push themselves into a place where a microsecond's miss-judgement might end their [ or someone else's] career. I'm older now and avoid adventures that 'should' result in damage, but, fuck me if watching people battle so fully, for such a little thing, gives me so much enjoyment. I appreciate knowing that people can throw themselves fully into battles like this, and not die for my pleasure.
Rick Rypien might have. That eats at me. The fighting is divided into players getting pissed off and standing up for their teammates or the set-up, bear fights. I think that the latter are starting to fade, I hope.
posted by qinn at 2:20 AM on December 7, 2011


Rick Rypien suffered from depression since he was a teenager and committed suicide. It's tragic and sad but it's story that doesn't just happen to hockey players and fighters and I'm not comfortable making the assumption that hockey fights played a huge role in his death.
posted by Hoopo at 10:58 PM on December 7, 2011


I don't know to what degree it's true in other professional sports, but the life of a hockey player is a strange one. My next door neighbour used to play in the NHL and has talked a lot about it. He came from one of those hockey families and from the age of about nine or so, his life became all about hockey. Every moment that wasn't school was hockey, year after year. He landed in the Blackhawks and played a few seasons for them then found himself in the minors. (He says SLAPSHOT is a fairly accurate description of this). It was a wake-up call -- he saw guys who were ten or fifteen years older who suddenly found their careers were over, and all they knew was hockey. Their options were basically, open a bar. So he quit, went back to college, and now he runs a venture capital fund. But you can't underestimate the guts it takes to walk away from the only thing you've known since you were ten.

Funnily enough the only clip I can find of him online is him losing a fight really badly. I don't know if he was an enforcer, but he's the biggest guy I know and the thought of someone beating HIM up -- I can't even imagine.
posted by unSane at 3:31 AM on December 8, 2011


Sidney Crosby is out again because of incidental contact, an elbow to the head, but almost certainly an accidental hit---Rule 48 doesn't apply.
posted by bonehead at 9:03 AM on December 13, 2011


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