Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Panel Recommends Ban on Fighting in Hockey

A panel has recommended the fighting be banned in hockey at all levels.

This was one of the recommendations made as a result of the Hockey Concussion Summit that was held last month in London, Ontario. The panel included the NHL, NHL Players Association, the Ontario Hockey League as well as several former NHL players including Eric Lindros whose career ended prematurely due to a concussion.

I am probably one of the few Canadians who didn't grow up a hockey fan. The constant fighting was a turn off for me. It seemed so gratuitous. Sure there are fights in other sports but they don't occur in every game. As the late Rodney Dangerfield would tell it, "There was a fight and a hockey game broke out." Fisticuffs are so ingrained in hockey that banning fighting would be like trying to box without throwing a punch.

Back in 1995, I interned for a British Labour MP named Jimmy Wray. He was a boxer before entering politics. During my stay in London there was a call by MPs to ban boxing in Britain. This was after a super middleweight fight between Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan which I saw live on TV in a pub at the International Students House. Although McLellan nearly knocked out Benn in the first round it was Benn who ended up winning the fight and McLellan sustained brain damage losing his eyesight and most of his hearing. I remember telling people late in the fight that McClellan didn't look right.

Of course when MPs say that they want boxing banned they know it won't happen. But it will get them attention from the press. So Jimmy decided to organize a luncheon of MPs, Lords, members of the British Board of Boxing Control and boxing luminaries such as Prince Naseem Hamed, Frank Bruno and Frank Warren. Prince Naseem would later become a World Featherweight Champion while Bruno was a few months away from becoming the WBC Heavyweight Champion. Bruno is probably best known for having lost two fights to Mike Tyson. Warren was Britain's answer to Don King and in fact were business partners.

Boxing probably has a bigger following in Britain than it does in America. Needless to say the press was very interested in this luncheon because of Bruno and Naseem not because they were interested in seeing boxing banned much less wanted to see boxing made safer. Take it from me it's pretty challenging to get MPs, Lords and other luminaries in one place at the same time for a photo shoot but it got done.

There will always be risks in boxing. But I think the world is better off with it. Boxing gives young men (and young women) a sense of discipline. If you think boxing is an opportunity for bullies then forget it. The last thing any boxing club wants around is someone who thinks he's going to beat the holy hell out of everyone. There's hitting but there is a time and a place for getting hit.

I would find hockey more interesting without the fighting and I guess if I had to watch hockey I'd rather watch womens' hockey. But you can't eliminate fighting from hockey anymore than you can eliminate a brushback pitch in baseball. Sure I will go to a Bruins game once in a blue moon. When I go I know there's a reasonable chance there could be a fight at some point during the game. If you don't want to see a hockey fight then don't go to the arena or if you see it on TV then change the channel.

While I'm all for giving athletes as much protection as practically possible its delusional to think one can change the nature of hockey much less competitive sports. I'm sure the Hockey Concussion Summit does as well and in the name of eliminating cross checks are just looking for a headline.

No comments: