THE HUMAN TOLL: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

With Sidney Crosby’s hockey career hanging in the balance because of concussions and Marc Savard’s apparently over, the NHL’s overdue decision to address headshots in the game is a classic case of being a day late and a dollar short.

Given the alarming number of NHL players who’ve been forced to retire because of concussions in the past decade and the growing body of medical evidence of the short-term and long-term effects of concussions on the brain, why has it taken having the career of the game’s marquee name, Crosby, put in jeopardy to prompt the league to address the issue?

Aside from attention to concussions beyond lip service being a case of better late than never, protocols and rule changes being put in place and contemplated for the 2011-12 season by NHL decision-makers don’t go nearly far enough.

How much brain damage in the name of the game, in the name of our entertainment, is enough? How many players will have careers ended and their long-term health and well-being compromised by concussions before the NHL eliminates all head shots?

It can’t happen soon enough.

DEVASTATING TOLL

Crosby’s struggles with post-concussion symptoms have forced the issue of head shots to the top of commissioner Gary Bettman’s list of things to do because he’s the biggest name in the game. Having the career of Savard, a very good player but not a household name, cut short in a life-impairing fog has helped to do likewise.

But, considering the long list of players who’ve been impaired by concussions, it should never have taken this long for the NHL and NHLPA to stop looking the other way and do something about it.

You want a list marquee players who’ve had their careers cut short by concussions? Off the top of my head, there’s Pat LaFontaine, in 1998, Paul Kariya, Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau, Geoff Courtnall and Adam Deadmarsh. Will Crosby be the next? We don’t know.

Tough guys? Raitis Ivanans, Matthew Barnaby, Stu Grimson, Gino Odjick, Cam Stewart, Nick Kypreos, Kevin Kaminski and Robin Bawa. Other players forced to retire include Dave Scatchard, Brad Werenka, Jayson More, Dean Chynoweth, Brett Lindros, Steve Rucchin, Jeff Beukeboom, Steven Rice and former Oiler Paul Comrie.

With the risks inherent in the game, that list is certain to grow no matter what rules are put in place — concussions can and do occur because of physical contact where there is no direct blow to the head. That said, it’s the responsibility of the NHL to mitigate those risks.

TIME HAS COME

While rule changes regarding blindside hits to the head and protocols calling for more thorough assessments of players showing any signs of concussion are a start, they don’t go far enough.

There is a growing number of people who believe any blow to the head of a player, by blindside hit or otherwise, should be dealt with by penalties and supplemental discipline. I count myself in that group.

That calls into question, among other things, the issue of eliminating fighting, which I’ve already written about oilersnation.com/2011/3/21/fighting-what-cost-tradition. That’s a question I would never have entertained 10 years ago. It’s part of the game, after all. If you don’t like it, go play badminton, right?

Of course, with the pay scale in the NHL, there will always be young men willing to take whatever risks are involved without a single thought about the long-term consequences. NHL career? Where do I sign up? And there will always be fans willing to buy tickets to watch them do it.

Given the medical evidence and the growing list of casualties, it’s time to re-think what’s an acceptable level of risk for players. Likewise, what grim realities we’re willing to turn a blind eye to in the name of entertainment.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • I still dont understand how the league can allow the hard plastic shoulder and elbow pads. No one can tell me that a safer and softer product cant be made. Even if it only saves 1 player from concussion at least the league can say it took one more precaution towards player safety.

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      I have always said that Equipment was a huge part of the problem. I also feel if the pads were soft the player doing the hitting might get a bit stung as well. This might add some protection as well. The whole underarmor thing is a train wreck looking to happen. I give you props. Hard Protection on the head and reproductive parts and softer on the shoulders and elbows.

    • bigguy13

      I disagree totally! Equipment is a small part of the problem, its the players. A gun doesnt kill a person, you need someone to pull the trigger and it doesnt matter if its a plastic bullet or a metal bullet it still hurts. Make every player not wear helmuts anymore like the old days. Back then it seemed each player had more respect for another than now.