MUCH OF the hockey world spent yesterday debating whether Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara should have been suspended for the hit that broke the vertebrae of, and gave a serious concussion to,
As most of the sports world knows, there is a new and growing body of medical evidence suggesting that there are long-term health risks to concussions, and even to repeated head traumas that are short of concussions. The National Football League, which long adhered to the “good, hard football’’ myth about especially brutal hits, began to change its mind last year. New penalties for excessive hits, and greater medical attentiveness to concussions, may prove to be too little to stem the damage, but the NFL deserves some credit for grappling with the issue.
In hockey, violent injuries usually come from two sources: High-speed encounters in which one player hip-checks another into the boards, as in the Chara-Pacioretty hit, and on-ice fights in which players wallop each other like schoolboys on a blacktop. The two problems can be related: The history of tangles between Chara and Pacioretty has prompted speculation that Chara was trying to make an especially hard hit. After the play, Pacioretty lost consciousness and was wheeled off the ice. He almost certainly won’t play again this season.
Fights in hockey drive up fan interest and are an accepted part of the sport, even if they’re ostensibly against the rules. But the dangers from such on-ice encounters have been amply demonstrated. In one extreme case in 2004,
Should Chara have been suspended? It’s only fair to review each case under the existing rules, and Chara was found innocent. But the rules should be toughened. The medical evidence is clear. Even moderate hits may do lasting damage. With severe hits, the NHL has to make sure that the punishment fits the offense.