Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fighting in Hockey Must End Now.

I want to take a break from talking about the Montreal Canadiens' latest drama involving Therrien and the team’s overall mediocre play for the last few weeks. I want to talk about our friend George Parros. Has anyone seen him lately? You probably glanced at him in the dressing room or watched him giving an interview on RDS. We barely see Parros dressed in uniform for game nights… unless you consider his uniform to be a suit. The story of Parros and the Canadiens is definitely no Cinderella story. By all means, injury on the first game is getting off on the wrong foot. Despite being cleared for play earlier this month, the enforcer has not seen much action on the ice. In my opinion, it is for the best. After his fight with Eric Boulton, it became clear to me that Parros should stop fighting, completely. As an athlete in a high contact sport, you are more likely to face multiple blows to the head, whether you are an enforcer or not.

With BellLetsTalk hashtags floating around Twitter this week, I can’t help but think about the millions of people suffering from mental illness in silence, living under the perpetual shadow of darkness which reigns over their consciousness day in and day out. The scary part is that a person suffering from depression could be the happy-go-lucky fellow you see every day at work, the individual whose life seems so perfect, who you might even secretly envy. In hockey, the losses of Wade Belak, Rick Rypien, and Derek Boogaard, serve as constant reminders of how little we really know about people, beyond the surface of the skin. You look at a guy like Belak, for example, and his story doesn't sound as typical as those of Rypien’s and Boogaard’s. In fact, he openly talked about his battle with depressive symptoms to his close friends, which is something you don’t see very often with people suffering from depression. Despite his openness and overall cheery mood, something was churning deep inside him that led him to suicide. Something so horrible that overcame any desire to live took over these three men to death. Yes, Boogaards’ death was accidental; his addiction to painkillers was not. More and more research is showing the increased risk for developing clinical depression after suffering multiple concussions. But hey, why should the NHL care? They’re only dealing with people’s lives here…

All three men, like Parros, were enforcers. They have each suffered multiple concussions. Unfortunately, fighting in the NHL is welcome and used to promote a tough and exciting image for the league. You just need to go down to Boston or Philadelphia, where a large portion of their pre-game graphics involve their players beating the crap out of their opponents, rather than demonstrating the skill so many have cultivated and developed since they were children. The essence of hockey shouldn't be based on a culture dependent in violence; hockey, more than ever, needs to embed its identity in that of the talent, strategy, and dedication players express game in and game out.

I don’t want to undermine the role of enforcers in the National Hockey League. Clearly, it is the hardest, most physically and psychologically taxing role to willingly take on. The sacrifices that players, like Parros, make to stay in the league are a testament to their devotion to the game. Taking away this role can ruin the dreams of many players whose skill level is inadequate to get them very far in hockey. In the grand scheme of things, an enforcer is lucky to stay in the league for an extended period of time anyway. Statistics have shown that the average career span of a professional ice hockey player is 5.5 years. In the grand scheme of things, all players retire and move on with their lives, much more centred on family. Is it worth it then, even if it’s for a brief period of time, to fight and risk the state of your long-term and immediate health, for a taste or a few more bites at the dream of playing in the NHL? From a player’s perspective, probably. And you can’t blame them for wanting to chase a dream,.but at what cost?

3 comments:

Welcome aboard, Safia! Good article, thought provoking to say the least.

Just a few thoughts I had reading it.

Philadelphia and Boston have long been associated with toughness. Philadelphia is known for fighting and toughness. Rocky has a statue! The Eagles and Flyers fans are notorious. Its part of their culture. Blue-collar town and the team represents them. They like the fighting and the hitting as much as the pretty goals. Go to Detroit or Los Angeles and I'm sure you're seeing more pretty goals and Gretzky or Datsyuk highlights and their pre-game video clips. How you pump up the crowd is largely based on your history and your clientele. Philly and Boston want to kick some ass, LA and Detroit want to beat you on the scoreboard.

Parros is a different case than the other 3. ESPN had a great article about Parros and his fighting and return from concussion earlier this season. He's an engaging, intelligent Ivy-League educated man and he knows his role and the consequences of his role. He'll be smart enough to retire after this season. The only thing he has in common with the other 3 is role.

Would I risk my long-term health for 5.5 years of NHL if it meant my role was a goon? Absolutely. And here's why (all hypothetical):

Hockey is basically all I know. I was always the best player as kid on travel teams. I played junior hockey and I was decent enough to get drafted. When I made it to the minors, I realized that as skilled as I am, I'm not going to be a top player in the league of the best players in the world. But I'm tough. I can hit. I can block shots and kill penalties and I can punch. I've fought to protect teammates. I box to stay in shape. I can bring an element of grit and toughness that all teams need. If I can chip in 5-10 points and protect my teams Crosby, I can play in the NHL.

But fighting is dangerous. I can suffer concussions and other brain trauma. What are my other options? I'm not making the NHL as a scorer. I'm not good enough. I didn't go to school because I played junior hockey instead. I can coach, but I'm only 22. Besides, NHL players make the third most money of the major sports leagues, with an average salary of $2.4 million. Even if I get a veterans minimum I'm making $525,000 for the season. With summers off. I've always wanted to be a police officer and they make good money at $85,000 a year on average! But I'm making CEO money at the league minimum! If I can play 5.5 years and spend wisely, I'm looking at $2,887,500 in earnings, nevermind if I'm good and land a solid contract. If I can land one good second contract at $1 million per season, I'm set for life. My family will be well off. I can sacrifice the potential of down the road problems for the earnings now. Besides, treatment is always improving. We're learning more and more about CTE. I'll be fine when I'm that age. I'm young, the future is bright for me. Hell yeah, I'll fight.

Hockey players who have spent all their lives at a high level want this dream. They'll do what they need to do. You'll never eliminate fighting from hockey, but you can eliminate the one-dimensional goon. The Antoine Roussels, the Brandon Prusts, the Steve Otts are what the goon role is evolving into. Players who can fight, but also kill penalties and chip in 10-15 goals per season. The league is clearly a skill league and the Colton Orrs, George Parros, Rob Ray days are soon to be over. Fighting is not.

Again, very thought provoking and welcome to the Habs Addict team! I look forward to reading more of your work!

Hi Nick! Thank for the warm welcome and the comment, I really enjoyed reading your feedback. I agree with everything that you have to say, I think that there are many sides to this argument. I decided to argue my side, that fighting should be banished. But, in reality, I would be lying to you if I said that I didn't enjoy the occasional hockey fight. I guess for me, I sometimes separate the identities of the player and the human, although I know that's a dangerous thing to do.. I don't want to put Parros in the same group as Belak, Boogaard, and Rypien. Those are of course 3 distinctive and unfortunate cases. I was thinking a little bit more for the future, after Parros' career is over, but I really hope that he will be symptom free and will be able to live his life to the fullest. I know that the culture in Boston and Philadelphia is largely contingent on an image of toughness, but I still don't think it's a good thing to totally advertise that to the fans, just because it reinforces the acceptability of goon fighting.

I'm really looking forward to contributing to HabsAddict! :)

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