This past Sunday, the Boston Bruins’ Marc Savard was blindsided by Matt Cooke. Watch it here:
All the YouTube comments about “If you can’t take a hit, you’re a pussy” and “Canucks are friggin’ animals” notwithstanding, getting hit like this in hockey, as well as other sports, is often part and parcel of the game.
Consider also Mike Richards’ hit on David Booth:
I watched both of these videos last night (which is one of the reasons I didn’t get to sleep at the time I was planning), and I had to wonder — if Cooke and Booth actually knew what they were doing when they drove their shoulders into the unprotected heads of their opponents, would they have done it?
If they’d known that repeat concussions can lead to dementia and Alzheimers… memory loss… broken marriages… domestic violence… lasting loss of balance… and more — sometimes ending in unemployment, homelessness, and suicide… would they have done it? If they’d known that “destroying” someone like that isn’t like breaking their finger — it’s more like cutting it off and mangling the other fingers around it — would they have thought twice? And if their coaches and managers and team owners had the right information and any sense, would they have let them get away with it? Furthermore, would the refs have overlooked it?
I’m not sure people’s brains are working well enough to let them make smart choices, here. I’m not sure, given the culture of hockey, and the tough-guy mystique, there’s any chance for anything other than dumb choices, when it comes to these kinds of sports.
I’m not being down on contact/collision sports players. I was one, myself, once. And I loved it. If I could still do it, I probably would. But there’s a logistical issue here, that has to do with how we’re physically constructed, not how mentally and physically tough we are.
One of the problems I see with contact/collision sports is that traumatic brain injury (which is what a concussion is) can lead to reduced appreciation of risk, poor judgment, lousy planning, increased aggression, and a whole host of other cognitive/behavioral issues which can impair anyone. It’s not only pedestrians walking around in the everyday world after car accidents, assaults, falls, and brain viruses, who suffer the ill-effects. Professional athletes do, too.
And when you play a rough-and-tumble sport that involves repeated impacts, including grade 2 concussions, as just part of the game, the cumulative effects can be dramatic and quite serious.
Imagine the long-term effects on kids who are taught/allowed to brawl on the ice or on the field, season after season, year after year, from the time they’re old enough to handle a stick or a ball. We don’t know nearly enough about what concussion does to young brains, but it strikes me (so to speak) that engaging in repeated intense shaking of the brain, which severs fragile axons which are essential for clear thinking and responsible functioning, would ultimately produce the kinds of aggressive and downright stupid behaviors we see in the Cookes and Richardses of the sporting world. It’s not their character I’m questioning (though some might). It’s their neurology.
Add to that the fact that players are getting bigger and faster each decade, and the pressures of money and success, that we’re living in a culture of shoot-first-ask-questions-later and bigger-and-badder-is-better, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lot more Booths and Savards being laid out on the ice — or on the grassy field/floorboards.
Ultimately, what these kinds of incidents tell me, is that the NHL is not doing its job in enforcing rules that keep play from degenerating to a series of full-on assaults over possession of a little round black puck. It’s also doing a piss-poor job of educating its players about the long-term effects of the concussions they dole out to each other. Either that, or it’s breeding numb (if not hateful and bloodthirsty) assailants who don’t give a crap about the long-term consequences of their chosen actions.
According to some definitions, that would qualify as sociopathic behavior.
One of the reasons I’m so pissed off about this is that Richards and Cooke are professionals. They should know better. They can do better. But they didn’t. And somehow, that’s okay. It’s just part of the game. Never mind skills. Never mind sportsmanship. That’s for pussies. It’s much quicker and easier to knock your opponent out with a blindside hit than have to actually play against them. Screw the game. All that matters is the win.
I have to wonder if folks who resort to violence instead of athletic skill are too impaired from their own repeat head traumas to fully grasp the seriousness of what they’re doing.
If that’s the case, then the NHL is really the ultimate culprit in producing what amounts to little more than (briefly) premeditated assault in the name of a “game”.
And the league can thank themselves — in refusing to penalize these kinds of hits — for promoting this kind of behavior in young players, who are too young to know better — and aren’t being taught any different.
Best wishes to Marc Savard and David Booth for full recoveries. Good luck, guys.