In todayâ€™s Globe and Mail
I wonder what will make people say that about us 50 years from now. What are the big things we might be getting really wrong? Chemicals in our foods? Genetic modifications gone wrong? Climate change?
In sports, I think, the haunting question will be about head injuries. It wasn’t until 1943 in the National Football League that helmets became mandatory; in the National Hockey League, not until 36 years after that, in 1979. The first goalie mask wasn’t worn in the NHL until 1959.
And in a whole childhood and adolescence of playing goalie, I didn’t wear a mask until 1965, when I had to wear one on my college team. How could I have been so stupid?
A football wide receiver, 220 pounds, cuts across the middle of the field at 35 kilometres an hour; a linebacker, 240 pounds, cuts the other way at 20 km/hour. The wide receiver focuses on the ball; the linebacker focuses on the wide receiver, knowing that a good hit now won’t just break up the pass but will break down the focus and will of that wide receiver for each succeeding pass in the game.
Two hockey players, almost as big as the football players, but going even faster, colliding with each other and with the boards, glass and ice exaggerating the force of every hit.
Boxers, snapping jabs and hooks at each other’s head, round after round. (But no hitting below the belt; that’s not fair.) Ultimate Fighting: Fist, foot, elbow, knee, bone against bone â€“ get your opponent down, get him defenceless and pound away.
In addition, there are the countless mini-collisions that never make the â€œHighlights of the Night.â€ They make players feel a little dizzy, but then seconds later, almost every time, they feel fine. So they must be fine.
As he points out in detail, they really arenâ€™t.
During the lockout a couple of years ago, I watched a lot of hockey on ESPN Classic. The game in the 70s and even 80s was incredibly different and it wasnâ€™t just the mullets. Even hard hitting physical teams like the Philadelphia Flyers or Boston Bruins played a far less physical than even finesse teams today do. The amount of violent hits just were not there. There were ugly incidents but the game was not nearly as physical as it is today. Part of it was the equipment. The equipment of the 70s was cloth with just a little plastic on you knee pads. Todayâ€™s players are using a lot of plastic and composite materials that make players not only feel invincible when they hit someone else but magnify the power and intensity of those hits on someone else. Add the fact that the average player is both faster, bigger, and heavier, you have a recipe for disaster, especially when you consider that the head is still the least protected parts of their body.
One thing that Dryden didnâ€™t get at is this ridiculous idea that is spouted by Bettman is that the players have to govern this themselves. As shown in the NFL, players wonâ€™t clamp down on illegal hits, it has to come from the league. It has to hurt players in fines and in games lost (which hurts the team as well). This isnâ€™t about the Zdeno Chara/Max Pacioretty hit (which I didnâ€™t see as dirty) but itâ€™s about a crazy about of players losing not only their careers but being able to function as human beings after they retire. As comments by Tie Domi about the death of Bob Probert show, players wonâ€™t even protect themselves from that fate so they need someone to step in and do it. The question is will the NHL do it before the Canadian or U.S. government steps in and does it for them?