Over the last several years, an intensified focus on player safety in professional sports has developed. It's a good thing. Professional leagues are paying more attention than they ever have to the longterm health of athletes and have taken progressive strides to help protect them.
The NHL can be included, and the Canadian Medical Association believes they still have a ways to go. CMA delegates condemned the "complacency" of NHL owners regarding the level of violence in pro hockey during their annual meeting on Wednesday.
Pierre Harvey of Quebec brought forward the motion, stating that the league is "tolerating and promoting" violence for financial gain. Harvey accepts that hockey is a rough game, but takes issue with blows to the head and hits from behind that cause serious trauma, specifically citing the 2011 incident between Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara and Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty.
Of course, the NHL immediately changed the dimensions of their rinks with rounded stanchions in an effort to prevent an incident like this from happening in the future.
While the nature of the Canadian Medical Association's opinion is apparently well-intentioned, it's short-sighted in scope. Simply speaking, condemning the owners is inaccurate. The NHL Players' Association is also involved in rule development, as everything is collectively bargained. As we had previously seen for years, mandatory visors was a measure that required the players' support to be passed. The players didn't want it, so it didn't happen.
The motion just recently passed this offseason after New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal sustained a serious orbital bone fracture after being hit in the face with a deflected shot during the 2013 campaign.
Ultimately, the perception of professional sports is changing. The concept of the gladiatorial warrior battling through injury is starting to fall to the side, as images of that same warrior crippled by those same injuries is becoming more focused -- and feared. Fans of sport (owners and players included) are being educated more thoroughly about the future danger that can come as a result of violence in games.
To that extent, the Canadian Medical Association is right.
Professional sports are going to need to change. For some sports, like professional football, this could be hazardous to the general product. In terms of hockey, I don't believe the game will suffer as much. While hockey has a considerable amount of violence, violence isn't a fundamental component of the game. Sure, some fans crave big hits and bloody fights, but those elements aren't crucial to hockey being played. Football on the other hand requires individuals to violently slam into one another to play the game.
Essentially, the NHL has been evolving towards a prettier game for years. Gone are the days of bench clearing brawls and patrolling enforcers. Present are discussions about dirty dangles and agitators. Talking about a player's 'sick mitts' details what his hands can do with a stick, not what his hands can do to another player's face.
The NHL still has some work to do in regards to making the game as safe as possible. Realistically, even with more progressive measures the game is never going to be without risk.
In the end, the league has made attempts to clean up the game. In all likelihood, there's still plenty of change on the way.