The Hockey Scene: Taylor Hall & Helicopter Parenting

The following originally ran in the Saskatoon Express, January 24, 2011:

Picture this: a 20-year-old construction worker is injured in a freak, on-the-job accident. It’s clear that despite the fact that no industry rules or regulations were broken, his injury could have been avoided with better safety equipment. Perhaps changes are in order.

Within days of the mishap, the 20-year-old construction worker’s mom speaks out, indicating that from now on her son will be wearing safety equipment even if – wait, what?

Did you say his mom? Isn’t this a 20-year-old man we’re talking about?

Indeed. As odd as this case of helicopter parenting sounds, that’s the same question I asked myself when Edmonton Oiler’s winger Taylor Hall’s mom recently stated publicly that in light of his recent injury, from now on her Taylor would be wearing his helmet during pregame warmups.

This after Hall received thirty stitches over his swollen, blackened eye, to close a gash that stretched from his eyebrow to his scalp. During warmups at Columbus’s Nationwide arena, prior to squaring off against the Blue Jackets, Hall stepped on a puck and fell to the ice, colliding with defenceman Ladislav Smid. The two then slid in front of teammate Corey Potter, who slashed Hall’s face with his skate as he tried to jump over the two men lying in his path.

Hall was not wearing his helmet at the time, because the NHL does not legislate the wearing of helmets during warmups. Given the severity of the accident, several teams, such as the Oilers, the Maple Leafs and the Colorado Avalanche, are considering requiring – requesting, really – that their players start wearing them. Don’t expect an overnight, league-wide rule change, as that would involve a significant amount of red tape between the NHL and the NHL Player’s Association. The current collective bargaining agreement gives coaches the final word on pre-game helmets.

Why players don’t wear helmets during warmup isn’t exactly clear. Though the league vehemently denies it, one theory suggests that it’s because the time spent on the ice without helmets, hair blowing in the breeze, makes the players, and by extension the franchise, more marketable. The exposure to their faces and physical identity on-ice furthers the connection with fans, which sells jerseys, more tickets and so on.

Another theory is based on old-fashioned nostalgia, and suggests its the players who aren’t keen on donning the helmet pre-game. Players grew up watching their heroes skate, at times, without helmets, and those were the moments they identified closely with their aspirations to become pro-hockey players.

Whatever the reason, Taylor Hall’s accident likely could have been far less bloody had he been wearing a helmet. The reality is that many elements of hockey, professional sports and everyday life could be a lot less bloody if we were all wearing helmets all the time, and undoubtedly at some point someone will try and legislate that.

In the meantime, I still don’t understand what this 20-year-old professional athlete’s mom has to do with his job. In fact, it shows that the way we view these men is getting increasingly bizarre. One one hand, we salute NHL players as brute specimens of muscle and speed, weighing hundreds of pounds and towering over six feet tall, hurling around the ice on knives like bullet trains to play a sport that is debatably at risk of resulting in pudding-brain with one wrong hit – all for the purpose of entertaining the masses. On the other hand, we don’t bat an eyelash if these same men’s mothers hover over their lives and careers, unabashedly and publicly calling the shots.

As minor hockey parents of small children, we’re advised repeatedly to keep our cheering, jeering, opinions, critiques, and/or unsolicited coaching advice to ourselves – and rightly so. But apparently if our Mama’s Boys, er, sons, achieve their dreams of playing pro as grown men, hockey helicopter parenting might just become totally acceptable.

One more reason I’ll be perfectly happy if my sons grow up to be construction workers.

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