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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Dr. C. J. Abraham
December 17, 2011 3:33 am

I presented a paper some years ago suggesting that the goal be moved away from the end of the rink to allow more room for the players rather than enllarging the rink. I think that enlarging the rink would lend itself to the possibility of additional injuries. The additionasl space would allow the players to have mire time ti go faster and, along with their mass, cause more injuries than before.

December 17, 2011 7:41 am

As has been pointed out many times on PTS, the tradition of the players association always sticking up for the offender vs. the victim is something they’d be wise to do away with.

The players (I think) could do much regarding this issue without even involving the owners.

Also, while I don’t have a solution, top end guys easily have enough money guaranteed in their contracts to retire on, vs. the low-end guys who clearly don’t. I wonder if raising the “middle and lower class” would lead to them taking less chances because they’d at least have more financial security. The system encourages them to take chances with other players’ health to maintain financial security.

Another Steve
Another Steve
December 17, 2011 1:42 pm

The fighting and head-shot issues seem really easy to handle (to me): ban all contact to the head, and kick any player of the game who throw a punch (or does something violent after the whistle). It would cause a bit of enjoyable chaos at first, but the players would adjust.

I am a huge proponent of moving to 4-on-4, so I was happy to hear McCown keep pressing the issue of going down to 4 players aside last night. If that is combined with putting limits on the size of goaltender equipment, then I think the game would be loads more exciting.

It would be great if the ice could be expanded again, but I have my doubts. 4-on-4 is exciting to watch, and the only thing that detracts from the current overtime version is that the stakes are so low (i.e. the loser still gets a point).

People who call themselves traditionalists obviously don’t want this change, but I would frankly like to see the more skilled players have room to play. Watching players like Kypreos is not exciting. Most of us have grown up with hockey, so we all have an attachment to some degree. At some points I like the current game and at other points it frustrates me. Ultimately I just want to see the skilled players shine, and I don’t care how that affects the record books. Societies change and sports can change too; adapt or be left behind.

Gerry (Burlington)
Gerry (Burlington)
December 18, 2011 1:07 pm

I personally believe the Int’l size rinks would help a great deal. When watching the World Championships every spring I notice that players intending to “finish their checks” and missing often end up leaving their team with an odd man rush the other way. The larger ice surface not only gives the players more room but also requires that player not over commit to the hit as the ramnifications are greater.

But despite many peoples efforts to raise light on the severity of concussions one only has to listen to P.J. Stock every Saturday and hear his solution of 2 beers a couple of Advil and get back on the ice. This past Saturday he also was alluding to the thought that perhaps these players are being babied too much with the concussion issue. Does the CBC only hire analysts who speak like they have been severely concussed?

December 18, 2011 2:02 pm

Gerry I don’t think it’s only CBC problem but the hockey media culture. For some reason hockey feels to “relate to the common folk” they need to hire mostly checking line plumbers or backup goalies.

In contrast a few weeks back there was talk on how many in the NFL media were critical of Lions player Suh, which TSM compliment how the NFL mainstream like Marino were harsh on Suh antics and cheap hits. Marino is right on top of the list as the most skilled player of his time and he has a strong voice in NFL mainstream. Who on the the NHL table is even close to that level. Even when they get skilled players like Roenick and Hull, they somehow they feel the need to dumb it down and be Cherryish.

IMO fighting is the root of everything, when you give the notion that players should fight to take cheap hits out of the game instead of the league doing it, nothing will change.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x