Imagine ice hockey without body checking and football with less hitting. What might sound blasphemous to hockey and football fans and players could protect youngsters from potentially deadly concussions.
L. Syd Johnson, an assistant professor at Michigan Technological University who has studied the disastrous effects of concussions in professional sports, argues that the time has come for major changes in hockey and football.
"Helmets don't really help," Johnson says. "A concussion occurs when your skull goes one way and your brain the other. Helmets help with skull fractures, but they don't help for concussions, though players still think they do."
Johnson favors banning fighting in hockey, which is accepted in the NHL and North American junior leagues but illegal in European and Olympic hockey. The Canadian Academy of Sports and Exercise has called for a ban on body checking in all levels of minor hockey, she points out.
Johnson acknowledges that 100 percent of hits can never be taken out of football, but they can be can be lessened, she says.
"I'm most interested in changes in the way hockey and football are played for the recreational and junior players who won't make professional leagues," Johnson says. "Youth are a neglected population of players when it comes to studying the effects of concussions. Nobody really knows the long-term consequences, nobody has studied them."
Johnson's research also taps into the culture of sports, she says. Fighting in hockey, for example, is celebrated in venues like Don Cherry's twenty-volume video series, "Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Hockey," that focuses on fisticuffs and body checking.
"As adults, we need to protect kids from injury," she says. "Sports are valuable. They help fight obesity, for example. But there are ethical implications. What's important in sports? What are we teaching kids?"
Johnson says that players in sports need to be respected as humans, not merely replaceable beings for our entertainment.
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