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The Problem With Hockey's Gladiator Culture

By: Andrew Bensch | Published: 606 days ago.

Dan boyle

"Classic hockey toughness." 

This was a line from San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy's latest article in which he references Logan Couture's quick return to the ice after being on the receiving end of this high cheap shot from Mike Hoffman last week.

Before delving into the problem I have with this line, let me first make a couple of observations. 

1) Purdy is a long time columnist that has provided the Bay Area with many entertaining/quality hockey reads.

2) Yours truly is certainly no saint in regards to having been guilty with making similar statements in the past. 

Hockey's Gladiator Culture Needs to Go

Anyone who even remotely pays attention to the sporting world in North America is aware of hockey's culture of toughness. Myself, as well as many other hockey fans, have shared memes that show baseball, basketball and football players missing time due to seemingly small injuries while a hockey player hardly misses a shift after taking a puck to the head. Classic hockey toughness, right? Or is it more like, classic hockey stupidity? 

While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman continues to refute the startling evidence linking Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy to the number of former enforcers who have lost their lives in recent years, more and more stories are coming to the forefront. In the news today is a report that the New Jersey Devils failed to disclose important medical documents regarding former player Mike Peluso. People's lives are at stake and hockey is responding with a "wait and see" approach. 

Almost everyone who follows the Sharks will admit they were pleasantly surprised that Couture did not have to miss a single game after the Hoffman hit. Couture's quick return has very little to do with his machismo though. He isn't tougher than other hockey players or other athletes. It is not as if he is more skilled at avoiding serious injury than others. It appears simply, that Couture was very, very lucky not to have suffered a concussion back on Dec. 14. 

This is the perpetuated hockey culture though that praises players for bouncing back quickly. That culture leads to guys returning to action too soon. Yes, the league has made improvements in recent seasons in their concussion protocol. However, just a couple of seasons ago, recently retired defenseman Dan Boyle admitted he returned to the ice too soon after sustaining a concussion. The rest of the season was extremely tough for Boyle as he was nowhere near the same player the rest of the campaign. He admitted to having serious issues sleeping in the months after the injury even though he only missed two weeks. 

While concussion protocol is improving, there is still this ever present tough guy gladiator culture in the NHL. These guys have had it engrained into them since they started playing at a young age. Hockey is a "tough man's sport". When the media constantly praises players for returning swiftly to action after facial and head injuries, it makes players want to prove they are likewise just as "tough". This is a problem, especially when you consider concussion symptoms don't always surface immediately. In some instances, symptoms have taken a week to ten days to appear. There is still and likely always will be an onus on the players to report their symptoms. And this hockey culture that promotes a gladiator menality is incredibly, incredibly dangerous. It is a culture that has arguably caused the deaths of some of its players.

This writer isn't claiming to have all the answers, but all us hockey fans would be doing players a favor by discontinuing the use of lines like "classic hockey toughness." These days it is a sign of true mental toughness, to admit one's problems/symptoms when all the peer pressure in the world is telling you to "suck it up, get back out there." It shouldn't have to be that way though. Admitting injuries/symptoms shouldn't be made challenging by an out-dated culture that needs to become extinct. 

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