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Mill on NHL Hits & Concussions

April 12, 2011

It is without a doubt that the NHL is one of the most brutal sports played today. From fights to concussions to hits the game can subject players to life-threatening injuries. The game is even centered around the idea that hitting another player is completely acceptable, and in many instances advantageous to win the game. In our recent reading ‘On Liberty’ by John Mill, he mentioned an important concept called the “harm principle”. In Mill’s eyes the harm principle holds that “each individual has the right to act as he wants, so long as these actions don’t harm others.” Furthermore the principle adds that so long as the action is only against the individual society has no reason to intervene.

Clearly the style of play in the NHL does not uphold any of Mill’s provisions outlined in the principle. But it should be argued that the players themselves are the ones who put themselves into the situation. No one forces them to sign a contract, and the players participate on their own will. So then if the players understand the danger they are putting themselves in shouldn’t society be forbidden from enforcing any rules against them. The answer in my opinion is yes. The reason being is that Mill’s principle applies to general society whereas the NHL falls into a category of a community or organization. The players knowingly join the group and understand the circumstances they put themselves in. Oliver Holmes noted the harm principle as “the right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins” and in this instance this can not be true!

4 Comments
  1. jamescimina permalink
    April 12, 2011 11:30 PM

    I agree with your stance that Mill would agree that the NHL has no right to act upon the hits in the game today. I think it is a good connection how the league is essentially a community and thus, because the players actively engage amongst each other solely, society, or in this case the NHL executives have no reason to act. However I think where this argument becomes hazy is that Mill obviously was not taking into account player safety or anything of that sort in his argument. We see how with the NFL concussions are a serious topic, so much that it has become in issue in the $11 billion dollar lockout for payer safety and health benefits when they retire. The same applies in the NHL, in this case although the action may only be on the individual in which each player knowingly goes into a game expecting to be hit, sanctions must be initiated. Despite it being an act towards only players, you are certainly harming them in the process and over time this becomes an issue for the league. Not only their image but their economic status, health bill and such tally up to a point where they could be seeing a pickle like the NFL is in now. I think the point that must be made is that Mill could also see the hits as being negative towards the “society,” or league in other words. This would thus hinder the argument for his support of no actions taken by executives. All in all it is a very current and thoughtful post.

  2. Chris J permalink
    April 13, 2011 12:15 AM

    I agree Adam, I feel that in the context of a sport or other event the harm principle cannot be enforced or embraced in the same way. I do disagree on the note of fights and other harm committed by players that does not effect the outcome of the game or give their team an advantage. Those are not an express component of the game, but rather an expectation of the players and audience.

    This expectation of unnecessary violence does not necessarily imply consent or make it acceptable. The players sign contracts to play hockey and to win within the express rules of the game, and Mill would approve of that. Harm that may come to them from others, but it is still in sport. Just as being harmed while rock climbing is not the fault of the rocks, being harmed by other players who play by the rules is just a negative outcome. The violence that leaves the boundaries of regulation play would likely violate his harm principle because it is no longer in sport, but simply perpetration of harm.

  3. Josh Platko permalink
    April 13, 2011 5:25 PM

    I love when people can relate all of these old theorists to today’s sporting entertainments. This was a good post, regarding the harm principle and the National Hockey League. As for your argument on it, I definitely feel that Mill’s principle would be allowed to be voided as the NHL is basically a league of its own. The only problem is that some rules from outside the NHL still need to be obeyed, murder for instance. Obviously nobody can go around trying to spear the other teammates in hope that this will in some way help them win. Some rules still need to be followed. Which is why I could agree with the fact that the harm principle is indeed violated. It is interesting though, because the principle of harm is most likely violated everywhere in today’s society. Wrestling between friends or backyard football would all violate the principle. Therefore, I think that the definition should be redefined to be more particular.

  4. April 13, 2011 8:25 PM

    I definitely agree with you that the NHL would have no right to take action on the vicious and sometimes dirty hits that occur during games. The NHL is its own league and the players agree to the risks that are presented when they choose to sign a contract with a team. Although Mill believes that no harm should be caused on others, and it appears that he would be against the concept of hitting in the NHL. Not everyone in society and the general people are being affected by the hits and harm that goes on. These men are payed, highly talented professionals who understand the risks. I do think that the NHL should take strong caution when dealing with concussions and other head injuries caused during play. I agree with above posts that this is a recent and well thought out post that talks about a highly debated topic in sports.

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