Everyone loves a good hockey fight.
Whether it’s between the two biggest enforcers in the league or two determined and motivated youngsters that want to prove themselves to the team, a good fight is what makes the hockey culture go round.But there are times when a good fight turns wrong and an innocent game becomes the poster child for whether or not someone’s health is worth the trauma a body goes through.
For years there have been circles of debates on whether or not fighting should be abolished from the NHL. Lately, the debate has hit minor hockey with body checking. But this doesn’t centralize around whether or not fighting should be permitted in a sport. It focuses on personal responsibility, especially when it comes to health and well-being.
Recently, the tragic death of NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard has come back to the surface. In 2011, Boogaard died of an accidental drug overdose from a prescription given to him to help his brain trauma — Stage II Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurological condition from repeated brain injuries — caused from too many fights and concussions throughout his six-year tenure as a player.
Boogaard’s family announced over the weekend that they are filing a lawsuit against the NHL for wrongful death of their beloved family member. They are allegedly saying that Boogaard’s death could have been prevented if there was more care to his state of health and more prevention from the trauma he received. Fair case. I can only fathom how losing a family member to his occupation can feel. But is the NHL really to blame for his initial state?
Boogaard only scored three goals throughout his entire six-year career. He fought 66 times in the major league, and there is no way of statistically analyzing how much he fought in the minors. His job was to fight. His job was to enforce. His job was to be the big man he was and to use this to his team’s advantage. While there is more to hockey than just fighting, Boogaard’s primary job was to smash his opponent’s head as much as his counterpart’s occupation was to do the same.
It was a matter of doing his job well and doing it so that he stayed in the NHL. For that, Boogaard’s death is his responsibility and can’t be pinned on anyone else. So while the wrongful death from his family perspective is justifiable in the sense that his drug addiction should have been mended, the NHL is not to blame for how he got there.
Boogaard’s job was to fight and he inflicted the same brain damage that he suffered on others. He used his ability to fight and his ability to enforce as his method of getting to the NHL in the first place. The liability of his efforts is why he ended up where he was — with a brain condition that needed mending by medication. Instead of blaming the NHL, which deals with countless enforcers coming and going with injuries and trauma, Boogaard’s family may want to look at the doctors that dealt with his case. Why were they not responsive to Boogaard relapsing? That may have been a catalyst to his death, but the wrongful death does not come from the lack of care that the NHL has for their players.
Similarly, you see players suffer from CTE in all of the major leagues, especially the NFL. The league holds no liability if the players are hurt, but they suffer from the same condition for doing their job. By doing their jobs, they are susceptible to injury. If they do their job well, they are even more susceptible. The National Post wrote a commentary on Boogaard’s case. They closed by saying, “Boogaard lived by the hockey fight, and probably died from it. The ultimate responsibility for his tragic death rests with him.”
It’s a tough line to cross, especially in the NHL, on whether fighting is the instigator of injuries and deaths. Concussions are more prominent, medical staff work overtime during games and people witness humans putting their lives on the line for entertainment and a contract. But it comes down to the player, and what they’re doing. If they’re doing it, they must be responsible for what happens.