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Ralph Nader responds to Ryan Lambert’s criticism of his anti-fighting stance

Greg Wyshynski
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Ralph Nader, the 77-year-old consumer activist, is the founder of League of Fans. Along with sports policy director Dr. Ken Reed, Nader's organization "encourages social and civic responsibility in sports industry & culture."

The social and civic responsible thing the NHL should do, according to Nader? "Take immediate steps to ban fighting and outlaw all blows to the head," according to an open letter to Gary Bettman on Feb. 6.

Our own Ryan Lambert disagreed with the stance taken by Nader and Reed, and their supporting evidence to request these bans, in a Feb. 10 Trending Topics column. Wrote Lambert:

It's a perfectly valid opinion. It's a wrong one, but as Tim Thomas knows, you're entitled to have it as a Free Citizen. But saying that fighting is directly related to the number of concussions in the NHL these days, as Nader does, is obviously and very plainly stupid.

Reading his open letter to Gary Bettman, you can tell Nader hasn't watched too much hockey in, say, the last several decades. After conceding there is no evidence directly connecting fighting to brain injuries — the kind of missing link that makes the Intelligent Design crowd salivate — he says, "[r]epeated head trauma has shortened the careers of Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros, and Keith Primeau.  Currently, concussions are threatening the careers of Pittsburgh Penguins' superstar Sidney Crosby and the Philadelphia Flyers' Chris Pronger."

First thing's first: How many of those guys got concussions from fighting? Primeau maybe? He also got popped more than a few times in open ice during his career.

So read the original letter and read Lambert's rebuttal. And, coming up, read the rebuttal to the rebuttal from Ralph Nader to Ryan Lambert.

Here is the letter we received from League of Fans on Tuesday:

A Rebuttal to Ryan Lambert of Yahoo! Sports Regarding Fighting in the NHL

February 21, 2012

Dear Mr. Lambert:

Thank you for your interest in our letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, in which we called for a ban on fighting in the NHL ("Stay out of NHL Fighting, Ralph Nader," http://yhoo.it/wjujDx).

While appreciating the passion in your commentary, we believe there were several misunderstandings, misstatements and unwarranted claims in your blog.  We would like to rebut several of the statements you made in reference to our letter.

First of all, we never said that fighting is the "leading cause" of concussions as you state. Clearly, the vast majority of concussions in hockey result from blows to the head received in ways other than fighting.  As such, we called for a ban on fighting as part of an overarching ban on ALL blows to the head in the NHL.

You claim that we said "fighting is directly related to the number of concussions in the NHL these days."  You called us "stupid" for saying that.  Your problem is, we never said such a thing.

And we also didn't say fighting prematurely cut short the careers of Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros or Keith Primeau as you assert.  Moreover, we didn't state that fighting is threatening the careers of Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger.

Repeated head trauma shortened the careers of LaFontaine, Lindros, and Primeau, and is threatening the careers of Crosby and Pronger.  Obviously, the brain trauma these players endured came from blows to the head due to multiple causes, not simply fighting.  That's why we asked Mr. Bettman to take the step to outlaw all shots to the head, including those resulting from fighting.

Additionally, while nobody can definitively say that fighting contributed to the deaths of three enforcers, Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak, this past year, it's certainly possible that the brain trauma they experienced on the ice in their roles as enforcers was a contributing factor to their tragic deaths.  In fact, we know for sure that Boogard was suffering from advanced stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head.  CTE symptoms include memory loss, depression, impulsiveness and drug and alcohol addiction.  It can only be diagnosed by examining the brain after death.

Mr. Lambert, you also took us to task for suggesting a link between how NHL players conduct themselves on the ice and how young players at lower levels conduct themselves.  Junior hockey players know that fighting prowess is one way they can get to the NHL.  Junior hockey leagues allow fighting as part of their developmental role for the NHL.  To be sure, there are a large number of teenagers -- the vast majority of which will never make it to the NHL -- taking unnecessary shots to their brains in junior hockey leagues due to the fact that fighting and other unnecessary blows to the head are still allowed in those developmental leagues.

Brain trauma is a serious problem in the NHL, and in all of sports for that matter.  It could be THE sports issue of the coming decade.  The fact Mr. Bettman -- after creating a department of player safety and professing a deep concern for his players' health -- continues to allow bare-knuckled blows to the head during games is tragic and completely irresponsible.

As we asked Bettman in our letter, "How can you continue to allow fighting, in which the primary target is the head of your opponent, and seriously make the argument that you're doing all you can do to make player safety a priority?"

Only last month, The Globe and Mail published an editorial calling for an end to fighting in junior hockey.  The editorial concluded, "The rules of Canada's game were not set in stone on a mountain top.  There is no earthly reason to put teenagers brains through a meat grinder to keep purists happy."  We couldn't agree more.

The NHL and Gary Bettman have taken some positive steps in recent years to deem certain blows to the head illegal that were considered legal only a few short years ago. That's progress.  But some blows to the head remain legal and, of course, fighting is still allowed.  That needs to change.

As NHL hockey legend Ken Dryden recently wrote, "If hits to the head are banned, why not punches to the head? … This is about head injuries, not fighting's place in hockey." (See "Time for the NHL to Get Head Smart" http://es.pn/qWVsxA)

Mr. Lambert, the gist of our letter was about unnecessary damage to the brains of hockey players and what that damage means to the players themselves and everyone who loves them.

It's fine to be passionate about the game of hockey.

But given the growing mound of research on brain trauma in sports, it's important that everyone who cares about hockey be just as passionate about protecting hockey players -- and their futures -- by doing everything possible to make hockey a more "head smart" game.

Sincerely,

Ralph Nader, Founder, League of Fans

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

• • •

All of this you've read before, but the bottom line for me is that Nader and Reed are doing what every anti-fighting opponent has done for the last year: Placed every player affected by concussions under the same big tent and then raised a flag that reads "BAN HEAD SHOTS" above it, while propping up the bodies of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak as a sideshow. It intentional generalization for the sake of political pressure, and it undermines some salient points about fighting in lower levels of competition.

But at least we know Nader and Lambert won't come to blows were they were to meet. Well, we're pretty sure anyway.

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