I feel like I’ve wasted my time talking about this, and I probably have. But that’s alright…that’s what blogs are for, right?
The NHL continues to drag its feet on the head shots issue, seemingly biding their time until they can pass the buck to the next generation of decision makers, today Marc Savard called it quits for whatever remains of the Bruins season. Meanwhile. the face of the league, Sidney Crosby continues to miss action with post-concussion symptoms. He’s missed over a dozen games, including the all-star festivities, and shows no signs of returning to action any time soon. Today an article was published on NHL.com about Pat Lafontaine and his take on post-concussion syndrome.
Here’s what stood out to me: “Once you get to a certain point with head injuries, there’s no turning back.”
While certainly not news, it carries a lot of weight when a prolific player who’s been through it, and had to cut short a hall of fame career weighs in on this issue.
It’s been well over a year since I ranted on these topics on this site, and on nhldigest.com. Frankly, I could simply switch the date to today, change a couple names, and presto – a new post! What I’m getting at is that nothing has changed. There are still dinosaurs out there carrying the torch for the “keep your head up / that’s hockey” culture, all the while completely ignoring or dismissing the fact that the players are so much bigger, stronger, faster and armored than ever before. Simply “keeping” your head up isn’t enough of a preventative measure for today’s NHL. I realize that this sounds like I’m advocating hitless hockey, and exonerating players who skate with their heads down. That’s not true at all. I never want to see hitting removed from hockey, but I do want to see players have to use their heads on the ice in a way that they haven’t had to before. While muscle groups in the legs, back and upper body can be strengthened, toned and bulked up for peak athletic performance, the brain is the brain and will always be a mushy, delicate organ. There are no bicep curls or squats for the brain. Hockey is the fastest game in the world, and the most important part of one’s body is gently encased in a skull, targeted by a bunch of heat-seeking missles. No helmet or mouthguard will help protect this fragile organ from high-speed colissions.
The game of hockey is in a completely new era. Comparisons to past eras are less and less relevant by the day, and those entrenched in the old view of the sport (i.e. “keep your head up or you deserve to get hit”) are the ones propping up the sloths who find any and all reasons to not enact change. Call it cowardice, call it being careful not to completely alter tradition, call it whatever you want. But when somebody gets killed on the ice, or is drooling in a wheelchair from his head injuries, I’d like to see those same people get in line with Mike Milbury who once said “‘People die every day. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t play the game.” What an enlightened view. Do all the dinosaurs share that view?
People innovate and change every day. Popular social media sites like twitter and facebook are constantly going through cosmetic and function changes. Often, these changes are met with anger (not only because of apparent security or privacy concerns) but because the status quo has been upended. Sorry folks, that’s called change. That’s called innovation…sometimes its hard to adapt to. Look at how technology has altered the media landscape. How the iPad is making print irrelevant. Instead of crying about it, the print industry needs to adapt and find ways to make what they do better. Similarly, the NHL needs to address the head problem now. Enough with reports and stats. No more pixie dust by telling us that the majority of concussions are caused by things other than direct contact to the head. Stop telling us that you need to take your time and be prudent when talking about making changes to a “fundamental” part of the game. You’ve taken enough time already. Too much time. We’ve seen enough of this crap over the past several years to know that there’s a problem. A serious problem. Just like a mother knows when their child is sick just by looking at them, fans with their eyes wide open know that there’s something sick with the culture of today’s game. The same culture that Don Cherry continues to build his empire with.
Rule 48 was recently fast-tracked in to the game. Wonderful. I’m sure the league’s General Managers all gave themselves a nice pat on the back for their accomplishment. Without going so far to say that it was all for naught, predictably, the league’s officials can’t interpret its own rule properly, as evidenced this weekend with Brian Boyle of the Rangers delivering a blind-side elbow to the head of Habs defenseman Jaroslav Spacek. An unsuspecting player was drilled with an elbow while the official stood there and did nothing. The NHL’s entire approach – from philosophy, to on-ice officiating, to doling out justice is a total joke. Who’s going to protect these dumbells from themselves? While they dawdle and play both sides of the fence, trying to maintain a half-pregnant approach, more and more stars are accumulating head injuries. Conspiracy theorists thought that if Crosby were to ever go down with an injury, they’d act swiftly and absolutely. Lo and behold, in what may be a case of reverse psychology, they’ve done nothing at all.
So while Mike Milbury makes a mockery of the seriousness of the situation by calling Pierre McGuire a “soccer mom” on NBC’s weekly NHL broadcast, Sidney Crosby – a guy NBC loves to showcase, sits and waits for his symptoms to disappear, and a player with a sad history of head trouble may have played his last hockey game.
A serious, no-nonsense stance is long overdue from the NHL. Somebody needs to protect the players from themselves, if they aren’t in favour of a ban of hits to the head. Somebody needs to show some courage and backbone in making the game safer for players who, like Bam-Bam don’t seem to realize their own strength. Any chatter about “respect for each other” is clearly just a smokescreen meant to put a damp blanket on the discussion.
If you’re a league executive, you have a responsibility to keep the players on the ice. But I guess it’s hard to act on head shots when yours is buried in the sand.