On Tuesday night, Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara leveled Pacioretty, his head hitting a glass partition that separates the teams’ benches. Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra in his neck; he had to be carted off the ice and remained in the hospital through Wednesday. Though the result of the hit was horrific, the consensus among hockey commentators is that Chara should not be punished. They say that what happened was unfortunate but Chara is not a dirty player and did not intend to injure Pacioretty. As for possible criminal charges, it’s hard to imagine exactly what crime Chara would be charged with. Isn’t checking a normal part of the game? Don’t all hockey players assume the risk of injury when they step on the ice?
The NHL stated on Wednesday that it would not suspend Chara. The league believed the five-minute major penalty imposed during the game was sufficient. Pacioretty is understandably enraged.
“I’m not mad for myself, I’m mad because if other players see a hit like that and think it’s OK, they won’t be suspended, then other players will get hurt like I got hurt,” he said.
Air Canada, one of the NHL’s biggest sponsors, has inserted itself into the debate by threatening to pull its sponsorship if the NHL doesn’t take “immediate” and “serious” action in regard to headshots. The Chara hit is just the latest in a series of incidents involving career-threatening and life-threatening headshots. Air Canada says the controversy surrounding the issue is bad for its brand image.
Head injuries are a serious issue in the NHL and the League needs to do a better job of addressing the problem. But as severe as head injuries can be, the local government has no business stepping in and threatening criminal charges whenever a player is knocked out during a game. The hits and the fights are part of the allure of hockey games—some fans go to games solely in the hope of seeing a good fight. And, unfortunately, every once in awhile a player is going to get hurt. That’s just part of the game, like in every other sport.