Gloves Off, Helmets On?

Maya FilipovicCorrespondent IOctober 15, 2008

Fighting has been an integral part of hockey since the very beginning of the sport. Without it, most fans would feel incomplete while watching or attending a game.

Whether or not to forbid fighting has been a constant question behind the world of the NHL. It is an issue that will not be resolved any time soon, and I believe cannot be resolved without changing the very game itself.

However, a newer issue that has arisen is whether or not helmets should be mandatory when a fight occurs.

Helmets were made mandatory in 1979 for every new player entering the league for obvious safety reasons. In the 1930s, after several disturbing injuries, helmets first made their appearance. They remained largely unpopular with both players and fans, who reprimanded the players who wore them.

This illustrates how drastically our ideologies have changed over this issue—for if a player refused to wear a helmet now, we would endlessly criticize their decision and their sense.

Why then does it not seem to be an issue that during the most violent part of the game helmets are thrown off without regard and danger reintroduces itself. During fights, players are constantly knocked down, and over the years, hundreds of players have at the very least gotten a bump on their head, with concussions a common result.

Multiple concussions cause lasting negative effects, and common sense says should be avoided at all costs. But they aren’t. 

Shouldn’t the league do whatever possible to ensure the safety of its players? This would come about by a mandate on the retention of helmets during fights. A sensible solution, yes—but is it possible?

If you have ever seen a hockey fight, you know how quickly it comes about and how passionate the players become. Helmets are mostly thrown off as a result of a blow to the head, not from the player’s choice.

Truth be told, there are some players who voluntarily remove their helmets in an exhibition of robustness, but they are by far the minority. If this act is spontaneous, how then can it be controlled during a fast-paced fight?

In order to not remove the helmet, the attacker would have to not aim at the face, and would have to instead direct his hits at the other areas—yes, the padded areas of the other player. What a fight to watch that would be.

Players who fight do so voluntarily, and are aware of the risks associated with fighting—bleeding, concussions, broken noses, knocked-out teeth, to name a few. If they are okay with these risks, then the other players will not prevent them—the pride of their team is on their hands.

Since the league cannot viably place a mandate on helmets when fighting, and the players do not seem to care about what could happen when their helmet is thrown off, the whole issue proves to be irrelevant at the moment.

The only way that a solution to this problem will appear is if fighting is altogether made illegal. However, since it hasn’t happened as of yet, I do not foresee it being implemented any time soon—unless, knock on wood, something terrible happens during a fight.