Online Program

Essential equipment or “unnecessary expense”? head protection in ice hockey and girls' lacrosse

Monday, November 4, 2013

Kathleen Bachynski, MPH, M.Phil., Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York, NY
The regulatory bodies of numerous organized sports have debated banning, permitting, or mandating protective headgear to prevent concussions and other head injuries. This analysis will use high school and college ice hockey and girls' lacrosse as case studies to examine the ethical arguments surrounding such equipment. In the last decades of the 20th century, head and facial protection became a standard requisite for playing ice hockey in the United States and Canada. Paternalistic arguments in favor of mandatory headgear were first and most easily made in the context of protecting child athletes, and were later extended to include adult players. Since the late 1970s, the National Federation of State High School Associations and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have required full face masks for ice hockey players. Girls' and women's lacrosse, however, largely bans the use of hard helmets for its players, with the exception of goaltenders. Opponents of helmets in women's lacrosse contend that the equipment would increase risks for players by encouraging more dangerous play and would constitute an “unnecessary expense.” Meanwhile, advocates of helmets argue that female athletes, like their male counterparts, need the protection from balls, sticks, collisions, and other safety threats inherent to the sport. The age of participants (youth vs. adult), their gender, concerns about expense, and arguments about how equipment influences player behavior have shaped the ethical debates around head protection in these sports.

Learning Areas:

Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Discuss common ethical arguments surrounding the use of protective equipment to prevent concussions and other head injuries in organized sports.

Keyword(s): Ethics, Safety

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a doctoral candidate studying the history and ethics of public health with a focus on injury prevention. I have been the primary author of research published in the American Journal of Public Health on the topic of head protection in leisure activities such as sports.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.