Concussion Conundrum

by RobG

The concussion issue has been front and centre this week. They continue to occur at a rapid rate in hockey and football. Or are they? I think some of it is as much a result of both leagues getting better at diagnosing a concussion, despite the story we heard out of Cleveland this week regarding Browns QB Colt McCoy. What’s clear is the concussion issue is not going away, and the media is all over the story.

One factor driving the concussion issue is the athlete of today. They are bigger, faster, and more reckless. Recklessness is expressed another way in some corners, as a lack of respect amongst players. You can point to the advent of Sportscenter as a factor in this. Getting on the highlight reel with the big hit has grown in prevalence over the years. There may have been concussions back in the day of helmetless players, 2 minute shifts, and CCM Tacks with tube blades but that era has morphed into armoured skaters, 45 second shifts, and high tech skates. Players are flying around the ice these days at break neck speeds, and the concussion issue is not going away without radical change. That’s ironic, considering the radical changes coming out of the lockout are also a factor – the elimination of clutch and grab hockey, as well as the red line sped up the game to where we are today.

One radical change that should have occurred (but didn’t) in the era of the new arena is bigger ice surfaces. I disagree that this can’t be solved. You hear the argument that making the ice surface bigger will eliminate the Gucci seats. Not true. Front row will be pushed back by the new surface, but it will always be front row. The cheap seats are what will be eliminated, and it is guaranteed the sales and marketing arms of all teams will wrap their heads around any possibility of lost revenue from a bigger ice surface. Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford acknowledged Wednesday night on Prime Time Sports that a bigger ice surface could be part of the solution to the concussion dilemma.

Perhaps we heard the start of some progressive thought from a player’s perspective the other night on Prime Time Sports, when Nick Kypreos was commenting on the ridiculousness of teams reporting on their injured players. Kypreos suggested that this should be on the player’s association docket, as once a player is retired, how could he go back to the league or a team regarding an old injury if it wasn’t reported factually in the first place. Essentially, if players are going along with their team’s tactic, they need to be saved from themselves. They don’t have the foresight to think about their lives in retirement.

I’ll go one step further in the players need to be saved from themselves argument. The head shot needs to be eliminated. The NHL has made an effort to manage and legislate against head shots, but it needs to be more precise, as there are still too many “was it a headshot?” debates happening. The NFL has been more effective at dealing with head shots, so it can be done.

What’s clear in my mind is NHL is the Titanic, and concussions are the iceberg. Is it too late to turn the ship around? As my friend TSM said in some dialogue we shared this week, until the old guard is minimized in the game, little will happen.

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