It was another scary scene on the night of Dec. 14, when Montreal Canadiens’ enforcer, George Parros, was knocked into a daze by New York Islanders’ tough guy, Eric Boulton.
During a fight between the two heavyweights, Parros was hit several times in the side of the head before Boulton connected with a punch to Parros’ chin, causing his knees to buckle underneath him. He left the game and did not return.
This is Parros’ second concussion of the season. His first concussion came after the infamous incident on opening night, when Parros hit his chin on the ice during a bout with the Maple Leafs’ Colton Orr.
Not only has this once again rekindled the debate about fighting’s place in the NHL, but it also brings up a more pressing question: Should George Parros hang up the skates (and gloves) for good?
Several hockey experts believe it is the organization’s responsibility to protect the players from themselves.
“It’s up to Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien not to put Parros in the line up anymore,” said Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmonds on TSN’s The Reporters. Concordia Stingers head coach Kevin Figsby also believes that the Canadiens need to think about Parros’ future.
“In today’s time-frame, you have to put the health and long-term well-being of the person above all other concerns,” he said. “Sport is a secondary factor. Life, and quality of said life, are much more important than the game.”
The league and the organization may also be more sensitive to players returning from head injuries after the recent lawsuit against the NHL by over 200 former players. The ex-players claim that the league withheld information about the long-term effects of head injuries.
Not only does the league have to protect the players from long-term effects of multiple head injuries, but they also need to protect themselves from being legally liable.
“How many ex-fighters, like Parros, will there be in 20 years?” asked Bruce Arthur on TSN’s The Reporters. “If Montreal keeps trotting him out, there might be a case.”
Others, such as Stingers alternate captain, Youssef Kabbaj, said it is up to Parros alone to decide his future in hockey.
“If he is cleared by the proper professionals to play again, he should be allowed to do so and eventually fight again,” said the second-year defenseman.
Kabbaj also said that stopping Parros from fighting could have more serious consequences.
“In this case, preventing Parros from playing for the sake of his health might be beneficial for him,” he said.
“[However] if Parros is forced to retire in the NHL, it might actually entice players into hiding symptoms of injuries for the sake of their career. This will unfortunately destroy everything the league has built to protect players today.”
The reality is that if the players and the league want to keep fighting in the game, then both parties must be willing to accept the risks. The fact that not a single player has come out against fighting proves that fighting, and the risks it entails, are widely accepted by those taking part in it.
Parros himself made it clear that no one is forcing him to fight.
“It’s a choice I make,” he told ESPN in early December. “[Brain injuries] are probably not from the fighting. It’s from the other hits. Most fights end in a draw, without serious injury.”
Although retiring may be the safe choice, it is a decision that Parros should be given the power to make. It is responsible for the league to be concerned about the health of its players and not want to be held liable for any long-term injuries.
However, as long as Parros is medically cleared to play and he chooses to carry on, letting him do so is a risk that the league must accept.