May 27, 2023

It takes more than 10,000 hours of quality training for athletes to reach the elite level of professional sports. Athletes dedicate years, even decades, with the hope of joining the less than 1 percent of athletes who make it to the professional level. But one game, one play, one hit can end an athlete’s career.

Athletes are aware of this risk every time they compete. In fact, injuries are inevitable and expected in contact sports where players are hitting each other with full force in the normal course of play. However, some athletes intentionally try to injure an opponent and cause serious injuries that could forever change an athlete’s career, maybe even his or her life.

In trying to keep athletes safe, leagues suspend athletes who blatantly hit players with the intention of hurting them. Offending athletes will often be suspended for a period of time determined by the league. Sadly, however, sometimes the injured athletes will miss far more games than any suspension given to the player who willfully caused the injury.

Athletes who blatantly attempt to injure an opponent should face more severe consequences than they do now. Players who intentionally injure an opponent should be out as long as it takes the athlete they injured to recover. Whether this is a few games, a month or an entire season, the player responsible for the injury should not be permitted to compete again until the injured player is game-ready.

In extreme examples where players’ careers are ended, the offending athlete should no longer be allowed to play professionally. The possibility of forfeiting your own career and the resulting loss of income because of your irresponsible actions would change the culture of sports.

Dirty hits and brutality are avoidable. They can be prevented. Intentional injuries occur in professional leagues such as the National Hockey League, National Football League and National Basketball Association on a regular basis and are not being penalized to the extent they should.

On March 8, 2004, Steve Moore, a center for the Colorado Avalanche, played his last game in the NHL. Todd Bertuzzi, a winger for the Vancouver Canucks at the time, skated up behind Moore, grabbed him by the jersey and punched him in the face before smashing him face-first into the ice. By fracturing three of the vertebrae in Moore’s neck and concussing him, Bertuzzi ended Moore’s NHL career. This incident took place after Canucks players and management had publicly targeted Moore for an incident between the two teams weeks earlier. After being suspended for the rest of the season (a total of 20 games) as well as the playoffs, Bertuzzi resumed his career. Moore never touched the ice again.

A 20-game suspension versus never playing hockey again: This is an example of the disconnect in a league that purports to protect players, yet continues to view fighting as part of the fabric of the game. In a few seconds, Bertuzzi ended the career of a player who had spent his entire life working to get to that point. In order to keep athletes safe, punishment for behavior such as this must be harsher.

Injuries are inevitable in contact sports and players accept this. But actions such as those by Bertuzzi, the intentional targeting of a player’s head in football or the accepted baseball practice of hitting batters with pitches must result in penalties that match the time the injured player requires to resume playing. The growing understanding of the extent and lifelong consequences of crippling injuries in sports requires a genuine commitment to protect players from intentional injury.

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