(SNN) - The NHL is struggling with a problem that may affect its very existence if it doesn’t move quickly to avoid the peril that lies before it. The issue of concussions in hockey has now magnified every hit to the head and fist fight; so much so that the fanatical cheers for the pugilists are getting more subdued all the time. The need to limit fighting in hockey has become more apparent with every injury
This is contrary to the owners' wishes, however. They believe a large component of their fan base is made up of people who love the fighting and want to keep it in the game. Worrying more about the bottom dollar than such things as employee welfare or even winning the Stanley Cup, these owners are too frightened of loss of revenue to take a stand to protect their workers. People argue that fighting is as much a part of the North American game as the smaller ice surface and ridiculously overpriced beer. They suggest it would be impossible to wean the current players off fighting since it has been a part of their game for all of their careers.
This argument may hold some water, but there is a way for the league to deal with fighting and that is to hit them where it hurts them most; not in their apparently fragile brains but in their wallets. If they truly wish to discourage fighting and career-impacting cheap shots, they have to get tougher than the hockey goons.
Here’s what they must do. When a player has been in an incident that requires game suspensions, the money the player would have received should go to a fund for those concussed and unable to play anymore. The suspended player’s team would also be required to pay twice that amount into the fund. Suspending a player, which only serves to save the team a few thousand in salary costs, teaches nothing. They have to be punished, too.
If both the players and their teams were both penalized for egregious misconduct, intentional head shots would soon disappear. This is, after all, a business as much as it is a sport for the men on both sides of this game. It is not good business to either be penalized monetarily or have your profits go to defending yourself from lawsuits from injured players. If ever a judge finds that professional hockey owners are failing to provide a workplace as safe as can be reasonably made, they could be shut down completely. Then nobody will win but the lawyers.
As far as the owners fearing that they will lose money if they stop their employees from fighting one another, this is likely an erroneous belief. It appears the vast majority of fans are more pro-hockey than they are pro-fighting, if ticket sales of international hockey events like the Olympics are any indication. Fighting isn’t necessary to have a great game; it is, for many, a detriment.
Even more likely, the loss of fighting fanatics could possibly be far outnumbered by families who would then be willing to take their children to a less violent entertainment. The comments of outraged parents who were sickened by the Bruin/Penguin brawl right in front of their young children were legion on fan sites and sports talk shows. There are many of these same parents that would never steer their child toward a game where common assault occurs constantly and is expected and encouraged in young players. Kids’ coaches have been found to be bribing, or rewarding hits that injure opposing players. Do you want your kid involved in that?
The time is long overdue for the NHL, and all leagues that still allow fighting, to change the game to reflect the new realities of the damage being done to these human beings. We owe our hockey heroes that much, at least.
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