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Neurologist calls for ban on fighting

Dec 19, 2011, 1:23 PM EDT

Fight Getty Images

People will say Dr. Rajendra Kale doesn’t get it. That he hasn’t been watching hockey long enough to fully understand the nuances of the game. Fighting, they’ll say, actually makes hockey safer.

But that argument didn’t dissuade Kale, a neurologist from India currently living in Ottawa, from penning a scathing editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal calling for a ban on fighting.

Writes Kales, “As a relative newcomer to Canada and a new spectator to hockey, I was fascinated by the skill, grace, speed and physical fitness needed to play the game. Simultaneously, I was appalled by the disgraceful and uncivilized practice of fighting and causing intentional head trauma. The tragic story of Sidney Crosby’s layoff due to concussions has not been sufficient for society to hang its head in shame and stop violent play immediately.”

Kale believes that the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of deceased players Rick Martin, Reggie Fleming, Bob Probert and Derek Boogaard “should be enough to  sway minds to impose a ban on all forms of intentional head trauma, including fighting, along with severe deterrent penalties such as lengthy suspensions for breaches.”

But what about the contention that fighting deters even more violent play? NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has called fighting a “thermostat,” suggesting a scrap can decrease the temperature of a game before things get seriously out of hand. Remember, hockey players carry sticks. If a player really wanted to hurt someone, he could.

“It is an argument, but I think it is an extremely weak argument,” Kale told the Canadian Press. “If you ban the fighting and the intentional head-hitting, you do not know what’s going to happen.”

And he’s right about that – we don’t know what would happen. So we’ll continue to debate it.

  1. comeonnowguys - Dec 19, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    “…The tragic story of Sidney Crosby’s layoff due to concussions…”

    But… Crosby wasn’t fighting when he suffered the concussions. Or am I currently concussed and just aren’t aware of it yet?

    • stakex - Dec 19, 2011 at 10:55 PM

      That line by this idiot told me all I need to know. He has no clue what hes talking about, and clearly does not follow hockey. Crosby was hurt by an accidental collision…. not a fight. Unless you warpped players in protective foam and gave them a speed limit you could not prevent Crosby’s original injury.

      Besides, fighting is part of the sport, and has been for a very long time. The players want it, the fans want it, and the league wants it… its not going anywhere despite some limited evidence that it might cause long term health issues. And it shouldn’t. All these people who know nothing about the sport need to stop trying to mess with it and let the guys who actually play the sport decide whats best for them.

  2. haterzgonahate - Dec 19, 2011 at 1:43 PM

    it’s time to stop babysitting the players… it’s a risk they’re all willing to take. it’s part of the game… lave it alone.

    what’s next? ban boxing? UFC?

    ban Bettman, bring back the red line and get rid of obstruction penalties. you know.. like how hockey used to be played?

  3. tjv027 - Dec 19, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    Fighting didn’t kill those guys, high-speed headhunting did. Pre-lockout, you could go right after somebody’s dome as long as you led with your shoulder. The league needs to dole out stiff penalties for targeting the head in any kind of hit in any situation…it’s just not kosher anymore with the information we now have.

    • michiganhockey11 - Dec 19, 2011 at 3:38 PM

      Fighting didn’t kill Probie. Years of drug use took its toll on his heart and it couldn’t come back. He had been clean for a long while and that was a shame for him to go that way.

  4. pens919209 - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:11 PM

    Anytime you suit up to play a sport, you are accepting the risk that you could be hurt, seriously or not. The question here is how much can a league minimize the chances that a player can be hurt while playing without altering the game dramatically? The NHL has a responsibility to look at all possibilities to keep its players safe – just like any employer has to work to ensure the safety of its employees as much as possible – but there is always going to be a certain amount of accepted risk.

    The first commenter is right – a lot of the concussions we’ve seen recently were not the result of fights, but hits. I’m wouldn’t argue with an expert in his field, but maybe the good doctor should spend a little more time learning the game of hockey.

  5. xxshookonexx - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:19 PM

    ….and get rid of the ice too…it’s awful slippery…someone could slip and hurt themselves.

    • michiganhockey11 - Dec 19, 2011 at 3:44 PM

      Workplace saftey is a must. All skates need slip-resistant blades to help prevent Loss Time Accidents…haha!

  6. abrienza428 - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    I’m not entertained by fighting very much. Most of the time I think it’s silly and unnecessary. However, I think Bettman raises a good point in saying it keeps things from getting out of hand. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Sadly, the reason fighting will probably never leave is because of ratings/entertainment value.

  7. botlecap - Dec 19, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    the fact of the matter is that these players choose to be on the ice, and they also choose to fight. how many times do you see a guy make the choice NOT to fight? it happens all the time. We are not talking about guys getting jumped on the ice. If you don’t want to take punches to your face, you skate away or fall down. when fighting starts involving unwilling participants than we can ban it.

    i think there’s an argument to be made that it’s wrong to have a guy who’s job it is to fight – a guy who wouldn’t be playing in the league otherwise (enforcer). likewise i’m not keen on coaches sending a guy out with the instruction to fight. as we have seen though, teams are moving away from those players on their own because they can’t cut it in today’s game. guys who can put up decent numbers and who are willing to scrap when they so desire are much more valuable.

    the speed of today’s game is going to cause accidents and injuries. nobody wants to see the game slowed down, so it really falls to the players to start having some more respect and concern for their safety and careers.

    i think team offices could do more to promote a different mentality, and i think the league needs to come up with incentives for teams to do so. wouldn’t it be interesting to see ideas like salary cap deductions placed on teams for each injury suffered by an opponent during their games? or award additional cap space for “in-house” discipline policies and actions taken? point is that the league needs to be working with teams to rid the game of the dirty crap, as long as the teams are not part of the policing it’s going to continue to be an issue.

    • michiganhockey11 - Dec 19, 2011 at 3:49 PM

      Claude Lemeiux chose not to fight sometime back in 97′. That worked out real good for him.

      I do agree regarding the speed of the game. So many people that haven’t ever played it or seen in person have no idea how fast it is. They watch it on tv and think football is faster….

  8. t16rich - Dec 19, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    Ban neurologists. I am starting to get the vibe that they are taking advantage of the sporting world because of how their profession has been dragged into the mix. Where were neurologists in the 80′s and 90′s when cocaine, steroids and head shots were the norm? It took the sports world to raise awareness on the topic, and its going to be the neurologists that profit from it. It is an issue that needs to be addressed. But telling guys to change the way they play wont work because they have been coached to play hard and hit hard since they were 10. You want to fix head shots, then start changing the way you coach the youth and ultimately the culture will change. Go back and look at Canadian World Juniors over past decade. Half of the hits they threw were dirty by today’s standards. Tootoo was every Canadian fans favorite player on the 2003 team. Even though he was charging and jumping into every one of his hits, fans and coaches praised him for trying to kill opponents. I was one of them. For the record I love hard hitting bloody hockey, but everyone keeps looking for a way to fix head shots over night. Like I said start coaching the kids in a different direction then we have been when it comes to contact. I hope it dosnt get to that, but that is how the “problem” will get fixed. And shoulder pads. Lets go back to those small white tough guy pads that Probert used to wear.

    • joeyjojoshabadoo - Dec 19, 2011 at 5:18 PM

      YEA! Stupid neurologists! What do they know about brain injuries!??!?! They’re just trying to drum up business for all the brain surgery stores! Only neurologists could conceivably stand to benefit from better preventative care that preserves the lives and minds of the athletes we watch, root for, and obsess over every day! Those selfish doctors!

  9. neelymessier - Dec 19, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    Claude LeMieux? Are you kidding me? He was a cheapshot artist extraordinaire. Yes after basically destroying a Red Wings face by riding it into the stanchion, this 200 lb man refused to fight another 200 lb man, on skates, where it is alot harder to really hurt someone than on foot when throwing down. McCarty refused to let him turtle and he had to get some some stitches. Boo hoo. He’s left a trail of injured opponents, like Ulf Samuellson.

  10. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Dec 19, 2011 at 5:20 PM

    We don’t really need neurologists conducting studies to reach the conclusion getting punched in the face repeatedly isn’t the most healthy thing in the world. That’s common knowledge and these are grown men who know that as well as the risks of fighting and still choose to do so. That’s ok with me.

    I think the onus is on NHL teams to refute the idea one can make it to the NHL solely because they can fight. They should only draft or promote guys who can contribute in other areas of the game and drop the gloves when they need to, guys like McSorley, Lucic, Wendel Clark, etc.

    Getting rid of the instigator rule is also a must. Guys will be less likely to take cheap shots if they know nothing is stopping the biggest guy on the other team from laying a beating on them.

  11. Jeff - Dec 19, 2011 at 5:24 PM

    It’s more than just fighting as to why they NHL players are getting so many concussions.
    In fact there’s a strong argument to be mad that the number of concussions have increased due to the crackdown on fighting.

  12. danphipps01 - Dec 19, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    Getting rid of fighting would just result in, you know, more headshots. Now, banning headshots outright, how do you go about that? Three strikes, you’re fired? Run out of hockey forever? I could get behind something like that if it were done right, but the idea of banning fighting just doesn’t sit well. There are other options to explore, many others. And I think they’d be more effective at harm reduction, too.

    For instance: for God’s sake, DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE BODY ARMOUR. The players are wearing better armour than the fucking military and it’s causing a LOT more injuries. Softer gear stopped puck impacts fine, and it didn’t make regular, high-speed hits so fucking dangerous. Cycle the gear they wore in the early 00′s back in. People were NOT getting concussed every other day back then, and although part of that can be explained by greater awareness of the symptoms today, that doesn’t account for the difference entirely. Less people got concussed pre-lockout.

    Another necessary change: people, bring back no-touch icing. This is just good sense. It’s not necessarily going to result in a major reduction in head trauma, but it’ll do good nonetheless.

    There’s also the idea of converting to international-size rinks. I don’t know about this one, myself. It’d take a lot of effort and nobody really knows how it would affect the NHL game, considering that most NHLers are Canadian or American and raised in our systems. It would be a bit of a wild card, and an expensive one at that. However, it’s something worth at least keeping in mind and mulling over. I wouldn’t be champing at the bit to do it, myself, but given the choice between this and banning fighting outright? I’d sooner try bigger rinks.

    The point is, there’s a lot of things to try before seriously contemplating banning fighting. Like it or not, it’s a part of the game. Most players oppose the idea. Most fans oppose the idea. The most vocal supporters of the fighting ban barely even watch hockey. I’d sooner exhaust all options before really considering an idea like that.

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