The N.Y. Times is reporting today that a team of experts from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota is calling for a ban on fighting at all levels of ice hockey. The call for a ban comes as a new National Hockey League season gets underway, and with several dangerous on-ice fights having already occurred. Just over a week ago, a hockey player with the Montreal Canadiens suffered a concussion and was hospitalized because of an on-ice fight. During the NHL pre-season, a Buffalo Sabers' player sustained a concussion and a broken jaw during a fight.
The Mayo Clinic researchers claim that fighting in hockey can result in long term brain injury and brain trauma which, in turn, can potentially lead to permanent brain damage. Injuries resulting from on-ice fighting have even proven fatal in the past. According to the N.Y. Times article, in 2009, Don Sanderson, a 21-year old amateur hockey player, died after striking his head on the ice during a fight. While such severe injuries may be rare, the researchers worry that damaging long term brain injuries may become common place in NHL fighters.
While some in hockey claim that on-ice fighting actually makes the game safer by deterring "cheap" or illegal hits, others say this logic ignores the long-term damage being inflicted upon those players charged with "policing" the game. Despite the resistance in some quarters of hockey, the rate of fighting in hockey has been cut nearly in half since the 1991-1992 season. Additionally, much has been done in the way of concussion awareness, prevention and treatment in hockey.
Hockey is a wonderful sport but, like many full-contact sports, it can result in concussions and other serious injuries. That is why it is essential for those responsible for drafting and enforcing the rules of the game to take seriously warnings from the scientific and research communities. Ideally, as more is learned about brain injuries resulting from concussions, more will be done in the way of prevention and treatment.