So I was listening to the Tuesday episode of Marek vs. Wyshynski and sandwiched in between plenty of broadcast rights talk, Wysh made some time to address the other big news of the day off the ice – the concussion lawsuit brought against the NHL by former players. In the course of handicapping the case, Wysh made this point:
"And I say this as a guy who's as pro-fighting as anyone, I would love to see somebody from the National Hockey League have to answer under oath how they square being a paragon of player safety but allowing fighting."
Now sitting in studio on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown falls somewhere short of "under oath", but I had seemed to remember Bill Daly being posed this very question on that very show a few years back. So after doing some googling I found the date (September 26, 2011) and figured out Sportsnet's podcast URL code to get at at the audio.
For the full 4 o'clock hour of PTS that day Daly appeared, taking questions from callers for a good chunk of that time. Much of the hour was spent talking player safety as 2010-11 had been the first season played under Rule 48. And it's probably important to remember that Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak had all died tragic deaths a matter of weeks earlier.
So that's the the scene.
Daly does basically dodge the question off the top, immediately taking issue with the idea the NHL "condones fighting". But from then on I at least get the sense that if it were up to him he'd penalize fighting more severely. At one point Daly says that 7 percent of the concussions in the NHL last year stem from fighting and adds "from my perspective that's a pretty high number".
The relevant audio (it's about a 5 minute passage) is embedded below as well as the transcript.
Caller: Good afternoon gentleman, I have a question for Bill. I would like to know Bill, how you expect any policy you have on headshots vis-a-vis preventing concussions has any credibility at all when your league condones fist fighting?
McCown: Thanks for the question, well it's a pretty common one.
McCown: How do you balance shots to the head with uh…punches to the head?
Daly: It's a fair question. I would just take issue with the characterization the caller made that we condone fighting. I'm not sure it's fair to say that the league or the game necessarily condones fighting. Should we be penalizing fighting more significantly than we do? Perhaps we should. Again, I'm not here to make decisions for the game itself, it's a relevant issue. And it defiantly does go into the mix when we're dealing with head injuries and trying to make the game safe, and trying to make it as safe as it can be within the confines of the structure of the game.
McCown: Is it fair to say that this league, and 'this league' can be the office of the commissioner, it could be the governors, the owners. That this league has a concern that to effectively mitigate and significantly mitigate the number of fights that exist in the game, could be a detergent to growing the game?
Daly: Umm…potentially. I mean obviously the fighting issue has come up at governors meetings, at managers meetings, I think it's looked at on a fairly frequent basis when you're self examining the game and how to make it better and how to grow the business. And to this point obviously there has not been a sufficient amount of support for penalizing fighting in a way that's different than we have at least recently enforced against it. It doesn't mean that can't get revisited over time, and as we continue to deal with the head injury issue, maybe it will need to be revisited.
McCown: So in the years in which you've been going to governors meetings and talking to governors, in a general sense…how far down the road are we on this issue? Is it not true that there are more and more people involved in this game that are accepting of the notion that maybe we've gotta do something about fisticuffs?
Daly: That's a fair comment. I think as, particularly in conjunction with the head injury issue there's more and more people who give it serious consideration as something that needs to be addressed. I wouldn't characterize it as something that's teed up at our next meeting. But it certainly gets more discussion and more consideration.
McCown: Are there hardliners now on both sides?
McCown: I mean we understand that there are hardliners on the idea of you gotta keep fighting in, those guys have always existed and we pretty much know who they are. Are there now hardliners on the other side?
Daly: Yeah I think so.
McCown: There are huh?
McCown: Where are we? Are we at a balance? Do you think we're within a few years maybe of seeing something tangible happen here? Is that even possible now we can discuss that?
Daly: I think it's possible. Again, I wouldn't say it's imminent. I wouldn't say it's likely or unlikely. I think the issue will continue to get evaluated, it will continue to be part of the discussion obviously. And as you know we're dealing with head injuries generally…I think 7 percent of our concussions last year were as a result of fighting. From my perspective that's a pretty high number.
Daly: So again, it's an added data point that probably goes to one side of the argument as opposed to the other.
McCown: Let's say we took 95 percent of the fighting out. Cause the notion of banning fighting is ridiculous and it's never going to happen. Fighting isn't allowed or condoned in baseball, basketball or football but it happens. And it's going to happen in hockey, so we're not banning anything. If the punishment was great enough, so that 95 percent of the fisticuffs departed…you personally, would you sell one less ticket?
Daly: My own personal opinion?
McCown: Your own personal opinion, how many people in the 30 cities say I'm not going? There's no more fighting, I'm not going.
Daly: There'd be a number in each of those cities, the question is are there people there who you turn onto the game by making that decision.
McCown: You really think there are people who say I'm not going anymore? I only go for the fights.
Daly: I believe there are some people, yup.
McCown: You really do?
Daly: I do.
McCown: Hard to believe those people have enough money to buy a ticket for the NHL.