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January 19, 2012

Fighting, Helmets and Insanity in Sports

Taylor Hall As Frankenstein's Monster

Part of what I love about sports is how completely fucking insane we all are. It’s a rule without discrimination — all races, classes, ages and sexes can be reduced to snarling, drooling and wholly irrational troglodytes because of sports.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: Right now a debate is raging among people — many of them intelligent — surrounding whether or not we should allow grown men to assault each other in the context of a game. For whatever reason, we feel like it’s a perfectly valid discussion for a democratic society like ours to have. Again, this is about the rules and etiquette surrounding adult men punching each other in the face while playing a game where punching another man in the face is penalized with a five minute sit-down. And there are people who will vehemently argue to their last breath that this is perfectly okay. And most of the people on the other side will say fighting should be removed, then stare longingly into space remembering a simpler time when they loved Don Cherry “Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em” videos and the idea of no fighting was just silly. I know, because that’s what I think about every time I argue to remove fighting from hockey.

Crazy, right?

But I’ve got an even better example: Helmets and visors. My wife and I were at the Flames/Kings game last Saturday and I noticed during the warm up that while just three Flames players eschewed helmets, only four Kings players were actually bothered to put them on. My wife joked about it having to do with LA and vanity. Fast forward a few days and Taylor Hall — one of hockey’s brightest young stars, which is important given the current injury status of its biggest star — is looking like Frankenstein’s monster after taking a skate to the head while not wearing his lid during the warm up.

Freak accident? Sure, but it was also a freak accident earlier this season when Chris Pronger almost lost an eye to a completely accidental high stick. Accidents happen. And in these cases, as in so many others, they were easily and entirely preventable. Worst than that, I can’t think of a single logical argument to not wearing your helmet while you’re on the ice.

Hockey is a game where a small, hard object flies around at incredible speeds, all players are equipped with long sticks and every single person on the ice has knives attached to their feet. Yet wearing helmets during practice and visors during games is optional. But that’s not what really shows how nuts we all are. The true depths of our insanity are only plunged when you realize that the major part of this discussion is about whether or not players should cover only part of their heads when playing. The most staunch supporters of mandatory visors think the idea of a full shield or cage for non-goalies is absolutely ludicrous. It’s not even on the table, because only kids under seventeen should protect their entire head.


But sports is riddled with examples of crazy. People were incensed that the police were called when Zdeno Chara drove Max Pacioretty’s head into a metal pole, breaking his neck. Mike Tyson — a convicted rapist — had roles in two of the highest grossing comedies of the last decade. Don Cherry has become a cultural icon. Michael Vick. Tiger Woods. Tim Tebow. The Vancouver riot. The Bryan Stow and Neal Auricchio beatings. Joe Paterno.

From a completely objective point of view, the conversations and actions surrounding these people and events make no damn sense. But sports require a different paradigm for discussion. Because with sports, we’re idiots and the rules just don’t apply.