The NHL and Head Injuries

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When you think about the sport of hockey, what pops into your mind? Most people might think about big hits, fights and rivalries. Well what if the things that represent the face of the league were to be under circumspection? Well that may be the case in the NHL. The issue of head related injuries is a hot topic right now and there are questions on how to stop them from happening.

Injuries in any sport are always a concern but now more than ever. As a proud student athlete, I am well aware of the growing number of head injuries in contact sports. Now, more than ever professional leagues are enforcing strict rules on contact to the head. The league that is under the most circumspection is the NHL or National Hockey League. I believe that player safety is the most important thing and thus the league should enforce stricter rules.


Last years general manager’s meeting in Florida had one main topic. The number of concussions and head injuries in the league. For starters, one of the league’s biggest names Sidney Crosby was sidelined for most of last year and a good part of this year’s season with multiple concussion and concussion like symptoms. This cannot be good for the league in generating revenue on television and at the rinks around the league. Many people tune into national television to see the leagues big stars light up the ice, but because of hits to the head, they are in danger of loosing some of those bright, young, and talented stars of hockey. Based on a player poll that was published in Sports Illustrated, only 9% of players felt that the league was not doing enough to prevent head injuries. 11% felt that they were doing too much, and 79% of the players thought that they were doing the right amount of enforcing new rules. Also, the number of head injuries has gone up in the past year, and we aren’t even three quarters of the way through the season.
Being from Boston, I am used to seeing rough and intense hockey, because that is the style of play from my hometown team, the Boston Bruins. Lately my team has been on the flip side of this type of play, starting with Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard that put him out of play for a year and a half. And if you watched the Stanley cup finals, you should probably remember Aaron Rome’s vicious hit on forward Nathan Horton. This hit put Horton out of play for the remaining games of the Stanley cup finals, and he is still not back to full strength. Although Rome was suspended for 4 games and the rest of the finals, many people didn’t feel like that penalty was enough. These types of hits are the ones that the league has to prevent. In the official NHL handbook it states “48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered.” In both of these hits, the victims’ head was targeted and they were in a defenseless position to receive the hit. Another factor that determines the extent of punishment for the aggressor is if he left his feet at the point of contact, in order to make contact with the opponent’s head. Therefore both players should have and were suspended from play for a few games.
Boston University is leading the way in concussion and head injury research. They believe that too many concussions or direct contact to the head can cause a disease called CTE which is similar to ALS or dementia. Also, injuries that happen during a player’s career may not seem serious at the time, but this disease develops years after the original injury has happened, and can impact your life. These findings could impact the league’s decisions regarding punishment for deliberate hits to the head.
Head injuries are not only a concern in professional hockey. Many professional sports leagues, such as the NFL, have this same problem. Also youth leagues are starting to get more head injuries. The head injuries in the youth leagues could be a result of hitting at ages starting at age 11. One solution that is already implemented in sports is baseline testing. This test determines your average brain waves, and can help determine if you have a concussion or not. The main solution in the NHL is to go into the “dark room” for 15 minutes. This help a player gain awareness to his surroundings after a big collision and a possible concussion has happened. This cannot be enough to prevent serious injuries.

Some possible and on going solutions include better head injury knowledge, which can lead to the betterment in the technology of helmets. Another solution could be to enforce stricter rules that include larger fines and suspensions.

As a proud student athlete I am concerned for my own and other athlete’s safety. If sports leagues were to deal with these issues now, the game could be just that much better.





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