OUR VIEW: Evaluate rules, stop violence in locker rooms
A supposed fair fight in a locker room has caused a ripple that will — or should — reverberate across the region.
It happened at the Mitchell ice arena, when two boys squared off in what is commonly known as "locker boxing." Since boys who participate in these fights wear helmets and hockey gloves, it's assumed it's a rather safe method to settle some issue or to simply let off steam.
But a junior varsity player was overwhelmed by another and couldn't defend himself. After taking numerous punches, he was thrown to the ground — a hard locker room floor — with a sickening thud. It was a vicious ending that led to the 15-year-old victim being hospitalized. The other boy, who is 17 and on the varsity, is being processed in the state juvenile court system. A video shows other players in the background, cheering the lopsided fight from its start to its ugly finish.
Now, the South Dakota Amateur Hockey Association has handed down a stiff penalty, banning Mitchell's varsity and junior varsity boys' hockey teams from postseason play. Also, the team's head coach was suspended eight games and the assistant coaches four games. The team also acted, suspending several players above and beyond the SDAHA suspensions.
Is it a random act or a relatively common occurrence?
Unfortunately, we fear it's the latter, and videos all over the internet prove it. Simply type "locker boxing" into an internet search engine and videos from across the nation populate the screen, some of which promote it as an entertaining side benefit of high school sports.
Others have gotten in trouble for it in the past. In 2010, a Toronto Star report noted how hockey players were suspended by the Northern Ontario Hockey Association for locker boxing.
Even in 2006 it was making headlines. Back then, an editorial in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine noted the matches — also called "helmets and gloves" or "helmet boxing" — are a cause of avoidable concussions among combatants.
A regretful disclaimer: We have known about locker boxing for some time now. At first, we considered it horseplay, something rather safe since participants wear helmets and gloves and since others — usually players — monitor the action. After all, we thought, boys will be boys.
In light of the injury, that attitude is prehistoric at best, outright irresponsible at worst. We know this "game" exists in high schools throughout the nation, and not just in hockey locker rooms.
As our own opinion on locker boxing comes into focus, we hope the same evolution happens among the region's players, coaches, school administrators and leagues. It should start with a statement, firmly reminding players that locker boxing and similar violence won't be tolerated, followed by a thorough evaluation of team rules. Leagues, too, should reevaluate their own rules and potential responses to locker boxing incidents.
With contact sports, head injuries are already a risk and they need to be taken seriously on and off the playing surface.
Most important: Coaches and administrators must acknowledge their role as supervisors on school or city property, and players must acknowledge that consequences await those who participate in these antics.