During the season opener for the NHL last Tuesday, George Parros, a player for the Montreal Canadiens, was injured during a fight against Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer, Colton Orr. Later that evening, it was revealed that Parros suffered from a concussion. This incident, as well as many others, is an example of when seemingly harmless fights that provide excitement for the audience cause the public to discuss different perspectives on violence in sports.
In many sports like hockey, violence is welcomed by cheering from the crowd. It provides an additional ‘excitement factor,’ but as soon as one of the players gets injured, the excitement is hushed by a sense of worry and distraught. There are many questions asked during discussions about such fights, such as whether they are inherent in the sport, or just a freak incident. Another question that many ask is whether the players should be the ones to decide whether or not fights should be allowed, since they are the ones affected by the consequences. In order to answer these questions for yourself, the intensity of the injuries should be taken into account. It may seem that the injuries don’t keep the players off the ice for very long, but the long-term effect can be detrimental to their health.
Research has been done that states that many athletes that are regularly involved in injuries develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). These patients show the signs of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia during the beginning stages of the condition, such as behavioural changes, irritability, slurred speech and forgetfulness.
The difference between CTE and dementia is that CTE is caused by multiple injuries to the nervous system, and it appears later in life due to damage to nerve cells over time. Thus, athletes who are injured multiple times during their career are often at risk of developing CTE. The brain tissue of patients with Alzheimer’s showed specific patterns of the proteins tau and beta-amyloid. Beta-amyloid is the protein that is responsible for the beginning stages of when Alzheimer’s is developing into dementia, while tau is a protein that kills brain cells after the dementia has developed. However, patients with CTE did not have any beta-amyloid in their brain tissue, and only had tau
This helped researchers distinguish between patients who had dementia and patients who had CTE. Having abnormal amounts of tau in the brain has led to retired athletes suffering through their old age because of the physical violence that they experienced during their career.
CTE is a condition that affects many athletes who have been exposed to recurring concussions and other head injuries. Over one thousand retired NFL players were surveyed, and the reported diagnosis for dementia, Alzheimer’s, or related diseases was found to be five times higher than the general population for those over the age of fifty.
The severity of this issue is one that needs to be taken into account in order to establish rules on fighting in various sports. Whether or not the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders is enough for sports to take more precautions against injuries is something that we shall see in the years to come. It is not to say that the risk of such conditions can only be reduced if all violence is removed. This gray area of what limitations to put on violence in sports will be continuously discussed until some agreement is reached.