As a lifelong fan of the Montreal Canadiens, I was as sickened
as anyone else at the sight of Habs enforcer George Parros lying on
the ice during the Habs home opener game against the Toronto Maple
Leafs on October 1st.
Parros was signed by the team to a contract paying him almost
$1,000,000.00 for the season during this past summer. He was not
signed for his scoring abilities. During his career as a
professional hockey player, he has played for a variety of teams
where he has served exactly one role, which is that of a
professional fighter on skates. The fact that he was injured in the
course of a fight to the extent that he suffered a concussion and
will be out of the line-up indefinitely, should come as a surprise
to no one.
Over the course of the last year, at least three noted NHL
"enforcers", retired and otherwise, have died. Those
deaths gave rise to a flurry of comments from a variety of sources
concerning the place of fighting in professional hockey, and
particularly, whether or not additional rules should be implemented
to discourage or outlaw it. The injury to Mr. Parros has sparked
yet another such flurry.
However, in an interesting article published online on TSN.ca on
October 2nd, TSN Legal Analyst Eric Macramalla looked at
the question of whether or not the NHL could be held liable for
brain trauma sustained as a result of a career playing
Mr. Macramalla refers to the legal action that had been
commenced by a number of retired NFL players against the National
Football League alleging that the League is responsible for the
long-term effects of concussions which the players have suffered.
The alleged basis for liability had to do with the proposition that
the League was well aware of the long-term risks of brain injuries
and failed to disclose those risks to players while they were
In my view, there is a significant difference between the two
sports when it comes to possible brain trauma. Football is an
inherently violent sport. Heads collide on an ongoing basis as an
integral part of play in the NFL. While equipment manufacturers
have improved head protection considerably since the days of
leather helmets, the other protective equipment worn by NFL players
is probably equivalent to suits of armour worn by knights during
the Middle Ages in terms of rigidity. If the NFL had scientific
evidence as to the long-term effects of repeated collisions of this
nature and deliberately withheld that information out of a concern
for the future of the game, and its ability to generate revenues
for team owners, that would indeed be a problem. Having said that,
in professional football, it is hard to see that there are any
steps at all that could be taken to prevent head trauma during
play. The only answer, as far as I can see, is to simply stop
Professional hockey does not, or at least should not, involve
collisions between players' heads and other rigid surfaces as
an inherent part of the game. These things do happen of course, and
careers are sometimes ended as a result. However, for the most
part, the most serious injuries of this nature seem to occur to
those players whose main function is to fight. While fighting has
always been a part of professional hockey, it does not absolutely
have to be. To a significant extent, it is
It is theoretically possible that the NHL might well have
evidence available to it that suggests that long-term brain damage
can result from repeated trauma such as that suffered by NHL
enforcers. If so, it is possible to construct a legal argument that
might give rise to a damage claim. In my view, however, the
possibility of a successful action of this nature is exceedingly
remote. NHL enforcers are grown men who know what they are getting
into when they sign contracts to be professional fighters on
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