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The NHL and NFL: Go All-Or-Nothing On Head Contact



New Puck Daddy: Basically an argument for why NHL players should be allowed to spray fans with water bottles.  For those of you who enjoy PD commenters at their finest….. I knew I had it comin’ today.  Enjoy!


The NHL and the NFL are entering a new era together – one where men have grown bigger and faster with better gear and better training and all the things that add up to a more exciting product.

But people are getting hit in the head so hard they’re dying young.  Others are being left ”punch-drunk,” as it used to be called in boxing (a euphemism for showing signs of brain damage).   Yeah, not so awesome.

Both sports will evolve, because they have to.

In football, it’s happening by The Sledgehammer Effect.  A few games, and few hits, and ho-ly-crap are they brutal.  One in particular caught my eye for it’s brutality (cheapshot headbutt), and the other for it’s football movie-like ridiculousness.

In hockey, it’s happening by The Woodpecker Effect.  Of course, there are plenty of big hits on a nightly basis - but for the most part, it’s the constant wear and tear of rapping your head off the boards on a nightly basis.  Just *thump* “ugh”, *bang* “ow” *crack* “goddamn.”

Somedays you wake up and find out you hurt in places that you don’t remember getting hit.

Half the time they put these guys back in the game

I think we’ll eventually end up taking all head shots out of both sports entirely.  It’ll be hard, and will require a major learning curve on the part of the players and generations of coaches, but think about it – people play and enjoy flag-football in rec leagues around the US.  It’s a great game even without the violence. 

Now, I’m not saying play flag football, we just have to kill the intentional head blows.  Nobody is going to stop watching a great game because guys are only allowed to collapse their opponent’s sternum, and not their skull.

It would be hard to catch a guy clean (if they went to body-tackles-only), but damnit, that’d be the new, difficult art of tackling.  If you can launch your entire self into some receiver and separate his shoulder, that’s fine.  We want it to be a tough sport.  But not being able to play catch when your older isn’t the same as not being able to recognize your kids.

Players would evolve under those new rules where they could only hit a guys body, and learn to blow people up that way.  Just stay away from the head.  You telling me this isn’t an entertaining hit?  I recommend full screen.

Yeeeaaaahhhhhh.  That was AWESOME.

Players could adjust in hockey too.

I personally never tried to hit an opponent’s helmet, and never met anyone who did (though watching Matt Cooke play, I have to believe some of those guys exist).  All you know sometimes is that a guy is coming at you with his head down, and you’re going to put your shoudler into him.  It’s hard to do that and avoid the head.

Still suffering symptoms today

When hockey does end up taking out those hits (set the over/under at six yearsish), the art will be finding a way to get your shoulder into the guys chest – whether that means you have to get lower, or just hit a side of his body off the head, that would be the learned skill.

Of course, it’s near impossible.  The game often moves too fast to have the time to pick your spot on a guy who’s just a bad player with his head down.  It’s always going to happen in hockey by chance, and the same with football.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a rule that says anyone who makes clear, intentional contact with the head first gets punished (maybe it’s just a cash fine?).  We have to at least try and ask guys to avoid the melon – leaving it as “legal” plays down how serious an issue it is.

But it will change. 

There’s just no way we can continue to allow these sports that’re basically breeding bigger/stronger/faster athletes to carry on like this.

I can only think of one other way this could possibly go:

Basically, football (and maybe hockey too) would have to become like the MMA: you know what you’re in for whether you’re watching or participating.  You’d just have to be okay with admitting you like the violence, and competitors would have to be understanding of that the fact that “this is a sport that does irreperable damage, are you willing to take the chance of that to make money?”  We as fans would have to say “since those gladiators are willing to put their lives on the line anyway, I’m more than willing to watch.”  Y’know, like MMA fans.

There could be high-quality no-contact leagues, flag-football and all that good stuff for those who didn’t want on-board, but I’m willing to bet the game would hardly lose a player or fan if it dropped the facade of being pro-family, pro-health, and all that other stuff they use as insincere fronts.

Something has to change, so what’s it gonna be:

(A) Tough luck, Marc Savard/Brian Westbrook, it’s a violent game


(B) No more head shots of any fashion, ever.

The NHL is trying to walk the “(A)-and-a-half / almost (B)” line, and it’s just too grey an area.  It’s going to go all-or-nothing at some point.

Personally, I think it’s inevitable that we end up at (B).


58 Responses to “The NHL and NFL: Go All-Or-Nothing On Head Contact”
  1. andy says:

    @ ryan – damn it man! quit ruining my fun with your sense making! you are quite right. i obviously overlooked the positive, community building aspects than sports can bring. i remember my late teenage years when that was the common bond between my dad and i. its easy to forget these things when the big stories are negative.

  2. JD from Jersey says:

    I’m sorry, i agree that intentionally hurting someone with a head shot is completely uncalled for. The Merriweather hit on Heap was dirty bu the hit on Desean Jackson was paritally Jacksons fault. He went thru the middle running full speed, his QB led him to that hit and its the offenses fault for putting their guy in that position. If everyone played the game smart, alot of these injuries would be prevented. Another think is, football is a violent sport. Correct me if I’m wrong but arent these guys getting paid millions of dollars because they are risking their lives for the sake of the sport, at any moment they could be injuried and thats why they get paid so much… am i correct in that assumption? If they change the rules, then I beleive these guys SHOULD make less money, there is no risk of injury on the field therefore longer careers… Keep the violence in the game, it’s what makes it the mans sport that it is. Don’t cross the middle with you head down and expect to be tickled. YOU’RE going to get hurt if you run full speed leaving yourself exposed.

  3. andy says:

    these guys are being paid millions because of the economics of their games. the nfl is an $8billion a year business. regardless of what they are paid, risking lives isnt worth it. ill accept knee, shoulder, whatever injuries as ‘part of the game’, but brain injuries? really? take a look at the average echlers salary. its about $35k a year. that league is no less tough, no less a ‘mans’ game than the nhl, but the economics are on a much smaller scale. these players run exactly the same risks as their much better paid counterparts, are they more ‘manly’ because of it?

  4. crushasaurus says:

    This comment section was fucking excellent.

  5. Beer:30 says:

    NFL – go to soft helmets and no padding. Look at rugby. That game is pretty exciting (some would say more so than football) and the hitting is hard enough to get the job done but under the PCP rage energy level. I’d have to look at the stats on injury but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it lower than football.

    NHL – bigger ice opens the game up and reduce hits but wouldn’t necessarily reduce severity. Seems to me that the fix isn’t as easy in hockey.

  6. thinice says:

    I don’t buy the “it’s football” argument. The problem with football is that they lead with their heads and are allowed to be projectiles, not tackers. I played rugby for years and you see plenty of hard hits, but you can’t lead with your head (or you’ll hurt yourself more – no helmet), and you have to “wrap” the player (i.e. put your arms around him as you tackle) or it’s a penalty. Do that in the NFL and it will take a lot of the injuries out. It may also make it much more offensive, but that might be part of the trade off.

    They are paid millions of dollars because they’re talented, not because they’re risking their lives. I saw a documentary on HBO’s “Real Sports” and it was about a newly discovered link between headshots/concussions and Parkinsons. No one is signing up for that by taking a paycheque.

  7. Darren says:

    I don’t think you can go all the way to (B) because it will allow guys to exploit the rule too much.

    ie: I’m a fast skating forward, I’m going to take this puck and keep my head down and stay low so I can be more agile. Nobody can hit my head or they’ll get suspended, but I’m allowed to leave myself in a vulnerable position and basically keep anybody from hitting me at all.

    You can blame the guy who makes the hit, in a lot of cases its their fault *cough* Scott Stevens *cough* but you can’t help but put some blame on the guys who have their head down and are willing to accept that risk.


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  1. [...] Bourne shared some thoughts on the subject, probably not for the first time.  I love the title and the point and the argument and the tone.  I also like the mention of Mr. Cooke.  And there was the Damien Cox article the other day.  It’s all good noise to my ears. [...]

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