Posted on March 4, 2011 · Posted in Brain Injury

The revelation this week that deceased ex-National Hockey League player Bob Probert had degenerative brain disease has sparked a debate, a rather ridiculous one, about whether fighting should be banned from the ice. Of course it should.

Probert, known as an enforcer and vicious brawler, died of a heart attack last July. The New York Times ran a Page One story Thursday on Probert, which was headlined “Hockey Brawlier Paid Price, With Brain Trauma.”

The article was illustrated with a color photo that was difficult to look at: Probert, bright red blood gushing from his forehead, fighting with another player as a young boy in the stands smiles broadly as he watches the action.

A test conducted on Probert’s brain tissue by Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy determined that the veteran NHL player had that degenerative brain disease, which has also been found in the brains of more than 20 deceased ex-National Football League players.

The question is whether Probert’s brain damage was caused by just playing hockey, or by the many brawls where he got hit or punched in the head.

Before he died, Probert had exhibited some of the symptoms of brain injury, such as memory loss and angry outbursts. This season alone at lesst NHL players sustained concussions as a result of the fights they had with rival players.

But players are telling The Times not to blame brawling for the degenerative brain disease, but rather blame the game, where players get slammed now onto the ice.

The Times ran a sidebar, headlined “Many in NHL View Fighting ss Necessary,” that said that some believe that fighting is “a deterrent against cheap shots, a safety valve against more serious mayhem and something that fans like to watch.”

So under that logic hockey players should continue punching each other in the head, giving each other concussions, for the enjoyment of the crowd? Folks like that young boy in the photo, for example? 

In a third story on the topic, this one published on Friday, the newspaper interviewed an ex-NHL enforcer, Marty McSorley, who was once convicted of assault for hitting another player in the had with his stick. McSorley was also suspended for a year after that incident, which derailed his career.

McSorley, who sustained various concussions during his career, now suffers from memory loss and other signs of brain damage. Yet he argues that it was playing, not fighting, that caused his brain injury.

Pardon us, but how can NHL playesr and officials say that fighting is a necessity for the game, or that landing blows to another man’s head isn’t going to cause concussions? 

About the Author

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