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Major NHL sponsor puts up fight against hard hits

Ice hockey is one of the most dangerous sports played professionally in the U.S. with its hard hitting and almost glorified fighting. The sport is infamous for leaving players with concussions and other serious brain injuries. Now, Air Canada, one of the National Hockey League's biggest sponsors, has threatened to pull its sponsorship because of violent play that it says hampers its image.

The complaint surfaced after a Montreal Canadiens player suffered a concussion and cracked neck vertebra in a recent game after being knocked headfirst into the glass by an opponent

After the opponent who caused the injury was ejected from the game but not suspended or fined, the director of marketing for Air Canada wrote to the commissioner of the NHL saying that the airline was considering pulling its sponsorship unless the NHL took immediate action with "serious suspensions" for players who cause serious injuries.

In the letter, the airline said that it was turning "increasingly difficult to associate [its] brand with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents." The letter stressed a plea that the NHL take action against said violent behavior before a fatality occurs.

The commissioner of the NHL responded by saying that the teams could strike back by refusing to use Air Canada for charter flights, which is a significant source of profits for the airline.

While American law bars foreign airlines from operating flights solely within the United States, Air Canada has an exemption to carry hockey teams on road trips between U.S. cites. The airline is the largest in Canada, where hockey is more than a sport but a way of life.

What do you think? Should the NHL attempt to make the sport safer by imposing stricter penalties for rough play?

Source: The Associated Press, "Air Canada threatens to pull NHL sponsorship," 3/11/2011.

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