Posted on November 6, 2013 · Posted in Brain Injury

Does eliminating fighting in hockey eliminate head injuries?According to an article in the New York Times on October 12th, 2013, most head injuries in hockey are caused by fighting and body checking.  We are as skeptical about such a claim as we would be to a claim by the NFL that eliminating helmet to helmet contact eliminates brain injury.

Ok, let’s take away the fighting, boarding and body checking.   There will still be the accidents such as falling and hitting their head on the ice, the accidentally getting hit in the head by an opponent’s stick or even getting hit in the head by a puck.  All of the above can cause some form of brain injury while it could be mild or severe brain injury.

The NY Times article was based on a study done at Ottawa University trying to simulate the head injuries that occur in a hockey game. But Biomechanical simulations can never predict an exact head injury or more important, rule out an injury.  All circumstances when it comes to any type of physical injury are different.  You can fall and bruise a knee one day and have the exact same fall at another time and break your knee cap.  There is no way to predict whether an accident is going to result in a certain type of injury.  It happens all of the time in sports.

If you watch football,which can be as violent as hockey at times, you can’t predict which hit is going to cause a concussion. If we see a helmet to helmetcollision (whether intentional or accidental) we all tend to cringe.  The heads flail and even the neck can bend in an unnatural position.  One incident of this may have the players jumping up and resuming the game normally and another incident may take a player out of the game with a concussion or even end a career.

To make hockey safer, all sport safer, we must not just eliminate fighting but all intentional. What we know as sports fans (and especially for hockey fans) is that the more fighting that goes on the more exciting it is.  Even baseball fans love a good brawl at the mound when the benches clear.  In NASCAR a big crash is exciting and most often replayed on ESPN, despite the fact that if ended the race or life for the drivers of the cars involved.  But at some point, and we would hope with the NFL concussion settlement, that time is now, we must settle for a level of excitement centered on the outcome of the game that does not involved a vigil in a waiting room.

The NY Times article talks about how it is the fights in hockey that cause the most severe brain injury.  The rotational force of the brain with an upper hand cut to the jaw is what causes the brain to roll around in the skull and can cause a concussion and/or unconsciousness.  In the younger leagues and in the NCAA they have already put rules in place that if you fight it is immediate ejection and possibly suspension for a period of time.  In football they continually add stricter rules about hits to the head and are working on making helmets that can absorb more of the impact on a head-to-head injury.  Should they impose these same rules in hockey?  A medical professional would tell you, “absolutely”.  A fan or player may tell you it will ruin the game.

So we have two questions. The first question being, if you take the fighting out of hockey will the fans still go to watch?  I would hope so as having watched many hockey games on TV, it is a very fast action sport and should be just exciting without all of the violence.  The players could still get hurt by hitting their heads on the ice during a fall but at least they wouldn’t be subjecting themselves to unnecessary head injuries because an opponent hitting them in the jaw, boarding or body checking.  The second question is , will it prevent all brain injury?  Absolutely not.  The occasion for accidental head injury and consequential concussion will not be eliminated by taking the intentional violence out of the game .  Unless they take away the puck, the stick, the ice and the boards they will always be incident for head injury in this sport.  Without all of the above there wouldn’t be a sport called hockey.

But not eliminating a known hazard because it will not eliminate all, is plane stupid. Lets get rid of violence now since it is the easiest of the variables to eliminate.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447