Since the beginning of hockey’s time, fighting has been a huge part of the game. Serving as both entertainment for the viewers and a key intimidation factor towards the other teams. Being a league “Goon” has developed into its own position on the ice and career within the sport.
That being said, to be an Enforcer, one must be willing to hit and be hit, suffering major injuries to the body and especially to the head. With today’s rapidly advancing knowledge on concussions, their symptoms, and long-term effects on a person’s mind, it’s time to reconsider how important Goons really are to the hockey industry.
Concussions have the power to leave long term mental health issues, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety when the brain has suffered them frequently and forcefully enough. In circumstances of extreme head trauma, which is the case with many major athletes (specifically enforcers in the context of hockey), their concussions lead to long term brain damage known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
"His demeanour, his personality, it just left him, He didn’t have a personality anymore. He just was kind of — a blank face.” - John Scott (teammate) on Derek Boogaard
CTE can only be diagnosed after death, and considering it is still a relatively new discovery regarding the long-term effects of concussions, it hasn’t always been tested for. Since studies have improved the global knowledge of CTE, national sporting leagues, such as the NFL, have given their players compensation for this degenerative disease. However, NHL is facing increasing CTE mortality rates itself. There is a recorded 19 former NHL players that faced sever mental health issues post career, and decided to take their own lives. Seven of those 19 have been confirmed to have endured CTE.
This past summer, the court of Minnesota turned down yet another class action lawsuit on the banning of body checking in the NHL. Body checking and “big hits” within the game have always provided the league with some of its biggest dollar signs, that many are not willing to part with. Yes, fighting and high physical contact are a part of hockey as a sport, but money aside, are they necessary within the game? At what point is the line of drawn between money and mental wellbeing of the players? When will mental health trump entertainment?
See National Post report.
See New York Times article regarding Derek Boogaard:
Featured image: source