Hockey fights are a long-time tradition in the sport – igniting crowds, turning the tables in games and not surprisingly, lining pockets in the NHL.
Now, critics of the long-held practice are pressuring the NHL to ban fighting. This comes after the deaths of three prominent NHL “enforcers”, players drafted to score punches instead of goals.
Jim Thomson says he lived his NHL career depressed and anxious. He says the lifestyle drove him and other “gladiators” to self-medicate with drugs such as alcohol and oxycodone. That lethal combination claimed the life of former NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard last May.
George Laraque, another former enforcer, worries that his fighting set a poor example for kids.
“I was promoting violence to kids. And every time I fought I saw the kids in the stands, clenching their fists wanting me to kill the other guy, and I didn’t like that image.”
16×9 spoke to Dahna Sanderson as part of an investigation into the role of the enforcer.
Her son Donald was a rookie defenseman with the senior AAA Whitby Dunlops in 2008.
“He said mom, I’m the rookie on the team, I’m not going to have to fight!” says Sanderson. “Cause that was his least favourite part of the game is whenever he had to use his strength to his advantage. He just wanted to play hockey.”
But Donald did fight – and on December 12 he was knocked to the ice after his helmet fell off in a fight.
“I actually found out about it when I got home to my place, about eleven thirty in the evening, I got a phone call telling me that Donald was injured,” she says. “And he was in the hospital. And there was a lot of bleeding – he had a severe concussion.”
“And then I had to sit and wait, to find out what hospital Donald was being transferred to, she says. “Imagine as a parent …you have to wait to find out what trauma unit your child is going to.”
Severe bleeding caused swelling in Don’s brain. Despite the medical team’s best efforts, Donald remained unresponsive, and died soon after.
Today, Dahna is outspoken in her opposition to fighting in hockey. Still, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman refuses to take a stand on the issue. Sanderson thinks she knows why.
“Convincing the NHL is like going after a huge business and convincing them to pull the plug on making profits. They have a huge business to run.”
Watch 16×9 this Saturday for “Suffering in Silence”. 16×9 chief correspondent, Carolyn Jarvis looks at the role of the enforcer in the NHL and who picks up the profits when they drop their gloves.