New study finds NHL ‘enforcers’ die younger than other hockey players
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, authored by doctors from Columbia University and Rochester’s Mayo Clinic, found NHL “enforcers” — players who got into more than 50 fights in their career — die younger than other players.
The research did not find more deaths in the “enforcer group” but instead noted their younger age and cause of death compared to other players of their time.
“Being an NHL enforcer was associated with dying a mean of 10 years earlier and more frequently of suicide and drug overdose than matched controls,” the study states.
“It does help raise awareness of what we think are some of the consequences of fighting in the National Hockey League,” said Dr. Michael Stuart, one of the study’s authors and a top hockey injury doctor at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “If nothing else, this article will stimulate some healthy debate.”
In their report, researchers mentioned Derek Boogaard, who played for the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers. They wrote his death has “drawn attention to the potential health consequence of fighting.”
After Boogaard’s overdose death at age 28, he was diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease known as CTE.
Dr. Stuart stressed the study was limited as they didn’t have access to a player’s complete medical records, including their concussion history.
The study found 6,039 NHL players have played the game since 1967, and 331 of those had 50 or more career fights.
Fighting in the NHL game currently draws a 5-minute penalty for both players involved.
“Our premise [is] that fighting in the sport of ice hockey should have similar ramifications as other professional sports, which means it’s an automatic game ejection,” Stuart said.
A top junior hockey league in Quebec recently voted to ban fighting.
NHL forward Max Domi was asked by SportsNet about that juniors decision in a locker-room interview, adding that in his view, 99% or more of NHL players support fighting in the game.
“I think it’s something that has to stay in the game, like I said to protect your high-end players and hold guys accountable,” Domi said. “It’s a big part of the game — always has been, always will be. It’s a huge entertainment value, too.”
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the NHL and NHL Players’ Association for comment on the study.
Back in 2017, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reported on a concussion lawsuit by former players, who raised concerns about fighting in the game.