Fighting ban in the NHL

Hockey is an extreme sport: agile on the one hand and violent on the other. The modern game is played with extraordinary power, speed, and skill. There is no more exciting game on this planet.

However, those of us in the medical community involved in the sport need to stop skating away as it is our responsibility to improve player safety.

As USA Hockey’s team physician and A.J Professor of Orthopedics, I have seen firsthand how a career spent fighting can dramatically change a player’s quality of life long before they reach their fifties.

Players often require treatment for hand fractures, facial trauma, and concussions. There is increasing evidence that repeated blows to the head can cause CTE. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a degenerative disease of the brain It is associated with a range of symptoms – from depression, aggression and memory loss to dementia, speech abnormalities and Parkinson’s disease. In most cases, the symptoms appear years after the brain trauma, long after the players have retired.

In 2018, the NHL settled out of court with more than 300 former players for failing to do more to prevent head injuries during their careers. But the settlements are a temporary relief to a larger problem.

Fighting is a serious health hazard, and orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine physicians, neurologists, and physiotherapists need to be a united front in speaking out about the dangers that result from blows to the head.

Furthermore, it is imperative that the NHL make a rule change: Fighting must serve as a penalty for in-game misconduct. Fight in the last 10 minutes of the match? You also miss the next match. To the penalty area after a fight? No, to the locker room for concussion assessment. Furthermore, the punishment should be proportional to the number of fights, so repeat offenders get a harsher suspension.

Fighting the misconduct penalty in the game will not be easy. Hockey culture is traditionally a warrior culture complete with a symbol. There is an unwavering respect for the way the sport is played. The NHL’s “old guard” argue that the rule change will lead to lower spectators and game attendance. Many players and coaches say that fighting is a valuable tactic to help win matches. that if a team was losing, the fight would shift momentum on their side.

These are dangerous myths, and my research with my colleagues proves it. In three studies this year, we examined the impact of fighting in the NHL.

We found that despite two decades of declining combat rates, the game’s popularity has remained unchanged. During the height of the ice hockey enforcer era in 1987, there were an average of 1.3 fights per game. In the season prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate dropped to 0.19 fights per game. Meanwhile, NHL arenas were near capacity and were averaging over 17,000 fans per night.

The idea that fighting helps teams win is also wrong. Look no further than last year’s NHL playoffs. 89 matches were played during the qualifiers with a total of 9 fights (0.10 fights per game). fight between The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Ross Colton and Colorado Avalanche’s Logan O’Connor had the first fight in the Stanley Cup Finals since the 2017 season finale. Since the NHL expansion in 1967, only two teams have led the league in fights and won the Stanley Cup – the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975 and the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 . There is clearly little correlation between fighting and a team’s winning record.

While the NHL has made changes to the rules To prevent concussions in 2011 – an amendment was made to the rule book (Rule 48.1) making any blow to the head a penalty – the changes are less than required. Fighting is already a game misconduct penalty in the play of the International Ice Hockey Federation, the Olympics, the NCAA, and several European professional tournaments.

The NHL should follow the example set by these organizations. Player safety should be high on the league’s agenda, and it should change the rule immediately. It’s a worthwhile investment in the players and the long-term health and viability of the game.

Dr. Charles A. Popkin is an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in the Department of Orthopedics at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Associate Professor of Orthopedics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. He also serves as a USA Hockey team physician and is a member of the USA National Safety and Protective Equipment Committee.

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