Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Safety Trumps Rights: Make Visors Mandatory

chris pronger injury
Chris Pronger narrowly escaped becoming an older, more accomplished Bryan Berard. Last night in a game between the Flyers and the Maple Leafs, Mikhail Grabovski's stick hit Pronger in the eye after following through on a shot. Pronger, who is one of the toughest players in the NHL, screamed so loud his pain was audible all the way up in the press box.

People immediately worried Pronger might lose sight in his eye. Thankfully, the prognosis was much better and Pronger is expected to return between ten days and two weeks.

Unfortunately, Pronger's injury isn't an isolated incident. A number of high-profile players, such as Steve Yzerman, Dany Heatley, and Al MacInnis, received serious eye injuries during their careers, which convinced them to go with a shield. Manny Malhotra was hit with a puck in the eye late last season and had to undergo emergency surgery. Malhotra returned during the playoffs with a full face shield.

The most high-profile case was Bryan Berard, then a member of the Maple Leafs, who was hit on a Marian Hossa follow-through. Berard almost lost his eye and after seven operations his vision improved to 20/600. He eventually made his way back to the NHL after losing more than a full season, thanks in part to contacts that brought his vision to a league minimum 20/400.

Chris Pronger is one of the most accomplished defencemen in the history of the league, but his career nearly ended under the most preventable of circumstances.

This brings up a question so utterly mind-boggling. Why hasn't the NHL introduced mandatory visors? There is no reason not to. None. Think of an argument. Please. I'll wait.

The AHL has mandatory visors, so why doesn’t the NHL?

TSN's Darren Dreger said in a tweet, "Unofficial numbers here, but was told today roughly 70% of NHL players wear a visor. Progress is being made. Players still want a choice."

That's nice. But when players continue to make the wrong choice, they simply prove that they are incapable of having the right to choose. This is not a matter or rights, it’s a matter of safety.

Seat belts were made mandatory after people continually chose to stupidly drive a car without them. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel comfortable wearing one, you’ll feel much more comfortable than you do flying through your windshield at 100 km/h. Similarly, wearing a visor is, as my Dad likes to say, better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick (he uses this saying to describe everything by the way).

One argument for allowing players to go without protection is that they can see better without looking through a visor. But arguing this obscures the fact that they have played their whole careers with full face shields and visors, so forcing them to continue to play under the same rules they have their entire lives isn't going to ruin their game. Plus, this argument is just a cop-out answer for the real reason they don't want to wear a visor.

Many players grew up watching their heroes on TV, and many of those players did not wear visors. According to a survey conducted by The Hockey News in 1998-1999, only 15% of players wore a visor at the time. That's not that long ago, so progress is being made, but the fact that the NHL is plodding along on this issue is ridiculous.

Players don't want to wear a visor because they want to tap into that old-school, tough-as-nails aesthetic of the days gone by (you know, days when players occasionally died on the ice). Hockey is a game that celebrates those that are tough. Players' faces end up looking like a road map after years of sticks and pucks taking their toll, but they wear these proudly as badges of honour. Wearing a visor isn't seen as cowardly as it once was, but players still believe going without any eye protection indicates how tough they are.

Players look tough and they look cool. They look just as cool as kids who refuse to wear their helmet when they ride their bikes, right? Unfortunately, there are people who do think the players look cool without their visors.

How else do you explain the amount of beer league players that choose to play without any facial protection? If these players can't play professionally, they might as well look like a professional. Can you imagine losing an eye over a meaningless beer league game? Oh, I'm blind in one eye because I wanted to look super cool in front of my friends. Who would have thought players that aren't very good at hockey would have awful control of their sticks and their shots.

Thankfully certain provinces (like Quebec) have even mandated full face shields at every level, the only exception being professional hockey.

Showing everyone you are willing to risk losing an eye isn't tough, it's dumb, in the NHL and especially anywhere else.

But there is a simple solution to this problem. Any current player who doesn’t want to wear a visor doesn’t have to. Their choice is stupid, but they can make it. However, any player entering the league doesn’t have this choice. They are required to wear a visor regardless of their preference.

This solution isn’t perfect, but it mirrors the way the NHL introduced mandatory helmets in 1979. Any players who were in the league before June 1, 1979 could sign a waiver and exempt themselves from wearing a helmet. Yes, idiots were exempt under a grandfather rule. Famously, Craig MacTavish went into the mid-90s helmetless. As a kid I always wanted to see him get smoked because of his clear idiocy. My inner Darwin, I guess.

The NHL needs to do something before someone's eyeball goes flying into the crowd. They should just immediately implement mandatory visors. If they insist on being thick they can at least use a grandfather rule. 

This really shouldn't be an issue, but, amazingly, it is. The only right that is at stake here is a player's right to show us that they are indeed dumber than a bag of hammers.


Ted said...

It's only a matter of time. Like with mandatory helmets, it'll someday be a joke from the past. I read a good quote from Brad May where he basically said that in regards to visors, if you're giving hockey players a decision, they're going to make the wrong one.

Anonymous said...

Doughty's thankful he wears a visor.

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