Ethical and Legal Considerations in Professional Hockey

Sport managers make difficult ethical decisions that may affect the people in and around the organization in the short or long term. Athletic Directors in universities may encourage the usage of painkillers to keep a competitive team in the race for national championship. Team owners of professional franchises may relocate to another city which is perceived to return more profits. The process of making a correct and fair decision is ethical reasoning.

Leaders in sports may experience ethical dilemmas or a practical conflict regarding compelling or competing values or social obligations. These dilemmas are resolved when the leader understand which values take precedent in the current environment. These dilemmas have implications. Because of this, leaders must consider how proposed resolutions will affect different groups of people and individuals.


“Not all ethical issues represent choices between equally compelling values” (Masteralexis, et al 2015 p. 138). Some of dilemmas leaders may face are a choice between right and wrong, or two opposing choices. Masteralexis, Barr and Hums state that “when the issue is about doing what is right, it is usually a moral issue. (2015, p 138.). Generally speaking, moral issues are considered self-evident or “common sense.” Moral issues are codified in laws. However, moral behavior cannot always be policed. Keeping players as safe as possible can be considered a moral issue.

Player Safety

Professional hockey has garnered a reputation as a violent sport. Current and former players of the National Hockey League have raised their voices in recent years in regard to the increase of concussions and the lack of governance towards repeat offenders. As of this writing, the commissioner of the NHL Gary Bettman denies any connection between hockey related concussions and the deadly, debilitating brain injury CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy.)

While the NHL has spearheaded efforts of diversity and inclusion by spotlighting woman’s hockey and advocating LGBTQ rights and awareness, they have failed – or simply been inconsistent – on how they govern player safety. This issue has boiled over in recent years, with former heavy hitters such as Daniel Carcillo opening up about the inner working of the league and the lack of concern or discipline for their employees.

An incident in 2004 between the Colorado Avalanche and the Vancouver Canucks is often cited as the junction between violence in hockey and potential legal issues that can stem from this issue. Todd Bertuzzi of the Canucks failed to instigate Avalanche player Steve Moore late in the third period. Bertuzzi skated after Moore to grab his jersey and land a punch. Bertuzzi landed on Moore as they both fell resulting in facial lacerations, three fractured vertebrae and a concussion for  

Moore. This incident ended Steve Moore’s career and resulted in criminal charges against Bertuzzi, and a civil lawsuit against the Canucks. The lawsuit as eventually settled out of court in 2014.

Ethical Ramifications

This is an ethical issue that resulted in a legal battle. A pivotal point in this incident was the nature of Steve Moore’s injuries. The legal battle and penalties within the NHL became murky because it was hard to fully grasp the full extent and long-term side effects Steve Moore would live through. This extreme example of the complexity of injuries due to the actions of one player is the stake between ensuring morality in the workplace and maintaining an on-ice product that fans recognize as the sport they have always been connected to.

While the NHL does not currently operate under a code of ethics, they partnered with the U.S. Army in 2009 to create themes and values for professional game play. They are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, integrity, courage and dignity. Lewinson and Palma (2012) outline specific ethical issues tied to the culture of hockey. The authors note a fight between Zdeno Chara (6’10, 260 lbs) and Bryan McCabe (6’1, 215). Is this a fair fight?

This seemingly lopsided fight was likely the result of both players working through the aforementioned themes and values. It is common in hockey to retaliate a hit to a team that targets a star player. This is an unwritten rule that teams, coaches, and players maintain in the course of a game. “Any player that fights because (a) his team is losing, (b) a wrong was committed against him by an opposing player, or (C) it is his duty on the team shows no discipline. Fighting for these  causes are not in sync with the definition of a morally correct hockey athlete.” (Lewinson and Palma, 2012).

Caron and Bloom (2015) outline four steps that would improve player health and subsequently realign the National Hockey League’s ethical compass. Eliminate former and current players from the disciplinary committee and replace them with concussion specialists and other physicians. Increase the size of North American professional hockey rinks to compensate for the strength, speed and conditioning of elite athletes. Increase suspension and fines; giving head related contact lengthier suspensions. And finally, and potentially most difficult, eliminate fighting. The authors argue that fighting does not directly contribute to scoring goals and winning games. In fact, fighting and incurring a penalty as a result will put your team at a disadvantage in the short term.


Caron, J. G., & Bloom, G. A. (2015). Ethical Issues Surrounding Concussions and Player Safety in Professional Ice Hockey. Neuroethics8, 5–13. Retrieved from

Lewinson, R. T., & Palma, O. E. (2012). The Morality of Fighting in Ice Hockey: Should It Be Banned? Journal of Sport and Social Issues36(1), 106–112. Retrieved from

Masteralexis, L. P., Barr, C. A., & Hums, M. A. (2015). Principles and Practice of Sport Management (5th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning.

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