Don Sanderson: Let's Not Turn A Tragedy Into A Farce

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Don Sanderson: Let's Not Turn A Tragedy Into A Farce
Yesterday morning, a 21-year-old Ontario hockey player died following three weeks in a coma.

Don Sanderson played for Whitby Dunlops of the OHL, and fell into the coma after hitting his head during an on-ice fight.

Waking up to this news on Friday left me with a sense of despondency not only because of the death of a promising guy who was younger than myself, but because I could foresee the knee-jerk reaction that could potentially change the game I love for no logical reason.

The media backlash did not disappoint.

Almost every piece of coverage implied that changes to the rules of professional hockey were not only warranted, but desired.

In terms of logical thought, this is ridiculous.

First of all, hockey is a dangerous sport.

It is full-contact, played on ice, and necessitates skate blades, sticks and dense pucks of vulcanised rubber.

Not one single person enters into this sport thinking he or she will not get hurt: that's a given. They also know the risks involved, even the unlikely ones. Hasn't everyone involved with the game seen the Clint Malarchuk video a thousand times?

I'm not in any way trying to imply that if a player gets injured it is their own fault; my point is that in such a volatile sport, people know injuries will occur, and yet they still enter into participation.

Injuries simply are part of high-impact sports, some serious, and if players were entirely uncomfortable with this, they would not play.

Fighting in hockey is the same; players known the dangers, and they do it anyway.

Secondly, it is wholly irrational to change the way a sport is playing because of one incident.

Think about how many fights occur in the NHL; lets say, for the sake of averages, that there is one per game. So two players engage in roughing for every game that is played in the NHL. That's at least two guys having a scrap almost every night in a regular season.

How many NHL players then have died as a direct result of an on-ice altercation?

One.

Bill Masterton of the Minnesota North Stars died in 1968, two days after a check which floored him, causing him to hit his head on the ice.

This was a decade before the 1979 draft, when helmets became mandatory for any new player in the league, and since then, no other NHL player has died in such a way.

In fact, in the whole history of the NHL, only four players have died of head injuries sustained whilst playing; Owen McCourt, Edgar Dey, Bill Masterton and Paul Fendley.

In contrast, the National Hockey League has lost a total of 29 players to car accidents.

In effect, if we're trying to reduce the number of players killed, it would make more statistical sense to ban hockey players from driving cars than it would to ban fighting.

Finally, and most ludicrous of all, is the fact that the league in which this young man played has already implemented the rule that is being called for: fighting is not allowed.

Many people who are new to hockey ask me why roughing occurs in games, and I often have no better answer than "it just does".

Hockey is an intense, physically and mentally demanding sport, and intimidation has a large part to play in on-ice strategies. Sometimes this spills over into a fight, and more often than not, causes merely a bruised hand and a bruised ego.

Most things, when subjected to a ban, simply become more desirable; fighting in hockey might well be the same.

The ban on fighting in the OHL didn't stop the fluke death Don Sanderson from occurring, and so this incident just proves to me that no change in legislation will alter the amount of violence in hockey.

Evidently, changing the rules cannot change the sport entirely.

So why do people want to remove the violence from hockey?

They don't.

I have never spoken to a hockey fan who does not love the intensity of an on-ice tussle.

Even following the death of Don Sanderson, a Sportsnet.ca poll showed that 82 percent of respondents wanted to keep fighting in the game.

Clearly, then, common sense does prevail amongst hockey fans.

Its just a shame that in their attempt to sensationalise everything, the media not only misrepresents the unlikely death of a promising young hockey player, but does a disservice to the fans of that sport too.

Let's not let reactionary journalism turn a tragic death into a farcical situation.

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