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(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

Drawn Off Topic

Barbara Hall on head shots Add to ...

Barbara Hall, a former mayor of Toronto, is chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Have you ever played hockey?

I haven't.

Why not? You're Canadian.

Yes, I'm a Canadian and I like to skate. This time last year, I had a broken wrist from skating. Girls didn't play hockey when I lived in Ottawa and Halifax. The boys at the local school played hockey and the girls didn't. I got stuck into girl's roles and played just about every other sport.

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Were any of them contact sports?

Grass hockey can be pretty brutal.

Do you watch hockey?

Mostly during the playoffs and international. One of the reasons I don't watch the regular season very often is I don't like the fighting. I'm not someone who enjoys watching people being beaten up.

Have you ever had your bell rung? (Are you familiar with that expression?)

No.

It means knocked silly; concussed, probably.

The last few years running or doing long-distance bike rides, I've had accidents, but my head never made contact.

Should contact to the head in hockey, intentional or not, be banned?

I think you work to eliminate the deliberate. I'd think that any organized sport would have in place rules that would protect its players from hits that would affect their ability to live in a full way for the rest of their life.

The NHL has a zero-tolerance policy for stick fouls to the head and face. Accidental or not, they incur a major penalty. Should that thinking be applied to head contact?

I would want to see a strong response to deliberate. I have this image of an old car seat in front of a gas station in Three Mile Plains, N.S., where I lived for a few years. A bunch of guys used to sit on that seat every day, still wearing their hockey jackets from decades before and something seemed missing from them ever after. They were unable to work and do all kinds of other things.

I'm sure no one has assessed that as a result of concussion in hockey, but I bet a lot them were. The players and the leagues and teams should be putting in place rules to eliminate deliberate hits on heads.

The NHL's current system of sanctions for head shots is inconsistent. Suspensions can be for two games, three games, eight games. Should the punishment fit the crime? If a player's head shot causes an opponent to miss 40 games, should the suspension be for the same duration?

That's a bit like saying do you support capital punishment, which I don't. Penalties need to reflect the seriousness and have a deterrent component. Three games, to me, wouldn't reflect the seriousness or have a significant deterrent.

The NHL's premier player and best marketing tool, Sidney Crosby, is sidelined with a concussion. That seems to have caught the NHL's attention more than anything, yet they're still reticent to act on the issue.

It sounds like they're collectively suffering a brain injury.

The number of concussions is rising; the players are bigger and the game is faster, certainly, but another factor suspected is a general lack of respect in hockey - and in society. Would you agree?

A friend with a young child recently talked about his little boy playing hockey in the street. He was young and the father, watching, couldn't figure out what was happening. He was playing by himself. He had a stick and a net and a puck. Every couple of minutes, he would throw his gloves on the ground and just stand there. His father asked him, finally, what he was doing. He said it was the fight time.

Should the NHL go so far as to take hitting out of the game, period? Women's hockey at the Olympics, which had no checking, focused on speed, talent and athleticism. It was a pleasure to watch.

That would certainly deal with a lot of my personal concerns. I have never watched one of those elite international games and, at the end, said: "Oh, damn, there was no hitting, no fights."

Infamously, hockey commentator Mike Milbury saw any banning of fights or toughness as a "pansification" of the game. Do you see it weakening the game?

I'd see it as strengthening the game.

There are all kinds of sports that were rough, tough and the cause of death and injury. When you see Muhammad Ali, shots of him then and now, you think that's too high a price for people to pay to give entertainment to others.

 

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