August 29, 2011
When Dr. Robert Cantu, known in sports-world shorthand as the concussion doctor, says fighting should be banned in junior hockey, then fighting likely should be banned in junior hockey.
Over the weekend, Fluto Shinzawa had a column looking at Boston Bruins prospect Tyler Randell (pictured), an erstwhile Kitchener Rangers wing who is seen as needing to fight in order to earn his keep in hockey (Randell: "I don't really think about it. I just know it's my job if I want to get into professional hockey. You just go in and fight."). In the course of it, Cantu, who has done groundbreaking work in the discovery and understanding of chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, said juniors shouldn't fight. You would recall that the late NHLer Bob Probert, who died last year at age 45, had CTE.
From the Boston Globe:
According to Dr . Robert Cantu, the co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, younger brains are not as myelinated, meaning they have less insulation than brains of adults. Also, boys' necks are weaker than those of adults. Their heads are disproportionately large for their bodies.
"That sets up a younger person to have injuries to the brain that are greater than those sustained at a later age from the same force,'' Cantu said. "It takes more force later on to produce the same injury.
"It's important not to have a head injury at any age. It's particularly important not to have it at a young age. Fighting is certainly to be discouraged, especially at young ages, for those reasons.''
... There is not enough research to prove that a hockey player who has been fighting and absorbing head shots since his teenage years will be more greatly affected later in life. However, Cantu points to brains of three youngsters (17, 18, and 21) at the BU center that had early-onset CTE.
"Presumably, those people were asymptomatic when they died,'' Cantu said. "Presumably, had they lived into adulthood, the early-onset CTE would have progressed. At some point in life, they would have been symptomatic." (Boston Globe)
If that doesn't clearly explain the tie between young athletes and concussions, then what will?
There is still a degree of public skepticism about how far society should go in protecting young people who participate in sports with a risk of head injury. For evidence, read the comment section on a Globe & Mail article about the Canadian Paeditric Society calling for children under 16 not to participate in boxing.
That being said, one wonders how much longer fighting can exist in the Canadian Hockey League when the medical evidence and wider public awareness of a disease such as CTE each continue to mount. An outside factor such as the class-action suit former quarterback Jim McMahon and some of his contemporaries have brought against the NFL could also force various leagues' hand. There is a chicken-and-egg element to it, wondering if it would take the NHL to act first before its longest-standing feeder system takes decisive action. But saying the NHL permits fighting is not enough of a reason to justify having it in the CHL.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.