Fighting the Good Fight: Why On-Ice Violence is Killing Hockey by Adam Proteau
Book Review by Sheryl Normandeau (Calgary, AB)
A LONG-TIME HOCKEY COLUMNIST with The Hockey News, Adam Proteau isn’t afraid to express his views in print, online, or in the many television appearances he has made on shows such as Off the Record. Proteau’s detractors may disagree with his belief that the National Hockey League, in its current state, is in need of a massive overhaul, but that’s all the more reason to closely examine Proteau’s efforts to build a case for the idea that “on-ice violence is killing hockey” in his new book Fighting the Good Fight.
Proteau acknowledges from the outset that violence (fighting, illegal checking) has been a part of the NHL from its inception, and he cites cases of career- and life-threatening injuries that span the history of the league. Proteau asserts, however, that never in the past have NHL players been so plagued with eye injuries and concussions. “More than 10 percent of NHL players were diagnosed with a concussion (in the 2010-11) season,” he writes, the most high-profile of whom was superstar Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Although media coverage of Crosby’s concussion has brought the issue to the forefront of public knowledge, Proteau feels that the league has been slow to react to the wave of additional cases of concussions among NHL players.
Should the players be allowed to choose not to protect themselves by refusing to wear a visor?
Advised by several neurosurgeons and brain specialists that the long-term damage to the brain from concussions can be felt years down the road, Proteau offers examples that show that concussions are not only ruining the careers of players, but perhaps reducing their lifespans as well. He claims that the NHL has completely dropped the ball with regards to protecting the safety of its players, its employees, in their willingness to create and sell a marketable package to millions of hockey fans. The fact that helmet visors aren’t mandatory for players is a shining example of the league’s negligence, Proteau claims: why should the players be allowed to choose not to protect themselves by refusing to wear a visor?
Indeed, the “self-policing” being undertaken by players is a major beef with Proteau; he believes it is one of the reasons the league is in the state it is today. Fighting and illegal checking—tactics levelled by players to exact revenge on an opposing teammate for perceived wrongs— have made the game into a war, Proteau protests, and seriously detracts from the spectacular displays of skill and finesse from the best athletes that the sport has to offer.
Whether or not the current prevailing culture in the league is indicative of a lowered standard of respect and sportsmanship within the ranks of the players or a profit-boosting effort to make the game more marketable to fans, Proteau blames league administrators for lackadaisical governance and inconsistent enforcing of appropriate, strict punishments to combat widespread hooliganism.
Why is the league condoning such behaviour?
The game can be—and should be—played and appreciated without players trying to kill one another on the ice, he insists. So, why is the league condoning such behaviour (or at the most, slapping its participants lightly on the wrists with minor fines and suspensions)?
Most importantly, Proteau suggests, the future of hockey as a sport depends on the makeover of the NHL. The way the game is played at its highest level naturally trickles down to the lower tiers, and Proteau fears that more and more kids will be discouraged by worried parents from playing minor hockey given the threat of violence and serious injury.
No matter if you subscribe to the school of “Rock ’em, sock ’em,” or prefer your brand of hockey without the fisticuffs, Fighting the Good Fight is an important read. Proteau’s thoughtful and lively examination of the issue of violence in the National Hockey League will certainly make you think about the game we all love in a new light.
Fighting the Good Fight: Why On-Ice Violence is Killing Hockey, by Adam Proteau (2011, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Mississauga)