There’s a website (hockeyfights.com) devoted entirely to the not-so-fine art of fighting on skates on ice, and there are chat rooms where the best fights are analyzed and picked apart.
But times have changed. We’re finding out the long-term consequences of repeated blows to the head, and it’s not pretty. While the NFL searches _ albeit belatedly _ for ways to prevent concussions, the NHL still allows its players to trade punches to the head with no fear of repercussions other than a few minutes in the penalty box.
There are other troubling aspects to the Boogaard story, particularly how he was handed pills like they were Halloween candy to help deal with pain and injuries. When he was playing the 2008-09 season for the Minnesota Wild, the suit says, team doctors, dentists and others gave him over 40 prescriptions for a whopping 1,021 pills.
He took Vicodin and Oxycodone for the pain, sometimes by the handful. Then he took Ambien to sleep at night.
Finally he took too many, and was found dead in his apartment in Minneapolis.
The suit by Boogaard’s survivors says the NHL had a responsibility to keep him “reasonably safe” in his career and to help him avoid being hooked on pain pills. Others may counter that it is the player’s responsibility, not that of the league, but CTE can make the brain malfunction in many ways.
Unfortunately, no one can assure anyone they will be safe playing any sport. That’s especially true in hockey, where the combination of speed, power, hard ice and even harder pucks can take a toll on even the best players, who usually avoid fights at all costs.
But hockey can be a beautiful game at the highest level without anyone dropping their gloves. No one fights in the Olympics, yet the gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada in Vancouver was one of the greatest hockey games of all time.
It’s a violent sport, yes. But there’s no reason anymore for it to be that violent.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg