contributed by Peter Andrew Sacco Ph.D. (Niagara Falls)
A FEW YEARS AGO I wrote a piece on how the knee in most professional hockey circles was held in as much reverence as the most sacred of sacred artifacts in the world. It used to be cheap shots to the knee which made players instant artifacts. Today, it is elbows, punches and sticks to the head which place a player’s career in greater jeopardy than a blown out knee. And why is that?
The knee is still protected, policed and sanctified in pro hockey. One doesn’t dare go knee on knee with another player because they know there will be a price to be paid. You just don’t go there! On the other hand, blows to the head are an all together different story!
Debatably the greatest hockey player ever, Bobby Orr had to retire way before his time due to repeated knee injuries. There is not a hockey fanatic, Boston Bruin fan or Orr fan that doesn’t salivate over what might have been if Orr had played a full career. Can you imagine? There were other big name players not only in the NHL but also the NFL in the 1970’s and 80’s who had to retire way before their primes because of knee injuries.
Incidentally, there were also several players during this same generation who had to hang up skates and cleats because of repeated head injuries and concussions. Whether it was a bum knee or a head bump, careers were cast short in their shadows. And in the end, it was the knee which became the most revered! Why?
Was it because Bobby Orr was NHL’s icon? Hockey’s number one son had been taken out at the knee. Was it because the “knee” was most associated with being a necessity for skating? Heck,
you can still skate with half a head, but not one leg, at least at the NHL level. Add to the fact you could see the surgery and scoping done on the outside of the knee—visible damage! What about damage to the head? Could you see what was going on inside? Interestingly, if you listen to some of the remarks made by some NHLer’s and general managers that some players aren’t the smartest to begin with! What’s a blow to the head when you already don’t have much going on up there, right? As long as you can still skate….that’s all that matters! Well, it would appear in pro and even amateur hockey this seems to be the underlying theme.
There have been great former players and coaches who put it best, “Get rid of the helmets/visors in hockey and the head shots will stop.”
The amount and quality of equipment today’s players are using along with the speed and strength they possess make them lethal weapons. No matter what kind of helmet you are wearing, an extreme blow to the head is going to cause serious damage. It seems that no matter how much players are allowed to police themselves, hits to the head are just not taken as serious as blows to the knee. How far will it have to evolve before every shot to the head is taken beyond a grain of salt? One outspoken hockey analyst once put it best…”someone is going to get killed out there before things change!”
For the head to be as mighty as the knee, leagues have to adopt a zero policy when it comes to blows to the head and make officials on ice enforce penalties. Perhaps if major penalties and suspensions were handed out for head injuries, the madness would stop.
Disciplining players who take liberties with head shots by sitting them down for as long as the player they have hurt is out might be a permanent deterrent.
Just think…if the player you take out never plays again, neither do you! Maybe this will be the turning point which makes players think with their own heads what damage they can do to others’ heads when they go into the boards behind helpless players, or when a player is left prone in open ice. Most fans pay to watch the elite play and not the goons of the league. Hitting and banging are a great part of the game and wanted. Playing good clean hockey and seeing the world’s best is what people pay good money to see. And when body parts are left in tact, namely heads, hockey is the coolest sport in the world!