Neurosurgeon: NHL should alter equipment, ban fighting

Sportsnet's Michael Grange addresses some key questions following the release of dozens of emails and documents pertaining to the concussion lawsuit currently facing the National Hockey League.

The topic of concussions in hockey has been ongoing for years. Last week, the sensitive issue was thrust into the spotlight again when a series of internal emails from NHL executives were made public.

Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgeon at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at Toronto Western Hospital, would like to see the NHL show more concern over concussions and take more preventative actions to help current and future players avoid short- and long-term brain injuries.

“Yes, there has been some change. Fighting is down, the number of enforcers is down, so some things have been done,” Tator told Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt Monday on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “The awareness of the concussion problem has grown gigantically since 2011…there’s no parent now that can claim to be uninformed [about the risk of concussion in sports]. Similarly, there’s no NHL owner who can claim to be uninformed.

“I still feel in 2016… that more can be done than has been done.”

If it were up to Tator to make the game safer, he’d immediately make a handful of changes he feels would decrease the number of concussions.

“I would start probably with the equipment,” Tator said. “It’s crazy to have elbow pads and shoulder pads that are like sledgehammers. Why have the [NHL and other leaders in the hockey community] allowed those ridiculous elbow pads and shoulder pads to be perpetuated?

“Why have they allowed fighting to continue when somebody like Don Sanderson died as a result of a fight?”

Sanderson was a rookie with the Whitby Dunlops of the Ontario Hockey Association when he died in January of 2009. Sanderson hit his head on the ice during a fight on Dec. 12, 2008 and succumbed to his injuries three weeks later.

“Although it only accounts for maybe five per cent or 10 per cent [of concussions in hockey] you could get rid of those concussions overnight by saying fighting has ended in the NHL just the way some of the amateur leagues have ended fighting.”

Tator also believes there should be much harsher penalties and suspensions for hits from behind on unsuspecting players.

More than 100 former NHL players have joined a class-action lawsuit against the league, alleging it had the resources to better prevent head trauma, failed to properly warn players of such risks and promoted violent play that led to their injuries.

With files from Associated Press

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