Face It: The NHL Gives Zero Fucks About Concussions

Pictured: The Typical NHL Player’s Brain

I’m done waiting for the NHL to care about concussions. It won’t happen. Ever. Unless possibly, someone dying on the ice in front of thousands of fans (or hundreds of thousands  of fans if nationally televised) live. Until then, don’t expect them to give any of the fucks.

Known scumbag nearly cripples a star player? It’s cool, only five games. (If you think I’m exaggerating about “nearly cripples,” take a gander at this video, he’s a paraplegic now and those “hits” look awwwwwwfully similar.)

Elbow an oncoming player in the face for no reason? No suspension or fines. No hearing even. Just a “lol totes cool” and off we go.

And even when they get it right, as in disciplining Raffi Torres for 25 games for turning himself into a human missile at Marian Hossa, the NHL REDUCES HIS SUSPENSION! Granted, it was from 25 to 21 games, so still very hefty, yet the point stands. Why should a repeat offender who consistently endagers the players around him be given any leeway at all?

And even beyond the ridiculously arbitrary suspensions (or more, lack thereof), the way the Quiet Room is handled is even more infuriating. The NHL instituted a policy that if an injury to the head occurs (or is expected to have occurred), that the player need to go to a room (The Quiet Room) for concussion testing/diagnosis for a minimum of 15 minutes.

Does this happen?

Fuck no, it doesn’t. At least not when it should. Heaven forbid one of your players be away from the game for 15 minutes. It’s not like you’re trying to protect them. Oh wait. You are.

Ya know what though? Even that’s to be expected. But here’s the kicker. What does the League do when there’s an obvious violation of the intended use of the Quiet Room?

…I’m waiting…

That’s right. Nothing. No fines. No sanctions of draft picks. No investigations. Nothing.

This isn’t a player going out to play on a bum ankle and maybe his ankles creak and hurt the rest of his life. This is a player going on the ice with BRAIN TRAUMA. And even better, you don’t even need a concussion to suffer from this type of damage.

Seriously, how much more research needs to be done before this is taken seriously? Actually, let me correct that. Seriously, how many more devastating injuries to athletes need to happen before this is taken seriously? Because sadly, the second question is the one that’ll get answered. It won’t be research that lights up the bulb over the NHL’s collective numbskull. It’ll be Crosby’s career ending. (Jeez, you think that guy of all people going down for over a year would’ve been enough.) It’ll be Toews being on the shelf for over a year. It’ll be a future Hall of Famer having their career cut short before fulfilling all their possible accomplishments. Oh wait, that already happened. (Yes, I realize Savard hasn’t officially retired yet, but that’s because he wants to get paid. Who can blame him? It’s not like he can make a living playing hockey anymore.)

We can even expand this out to fighting. Greg Wyshynski at Yahoo! Sports (are you really supposed to put that stupid ! in there when you write Yahoo?) nailed it perfectly today. The NHL is trying to find a way to keep fighting in the game, but to take out “silly” fights like staged fights. That’s stupid. Either you’re ok with people beating their brains in (quite literally) or you aren’t. Make the choice.

And don’t take this as me having all the answers, because I totally don’t. But SOMETHING needs to happen. Some effort needs to be made to hold teams accountable, to protect players, and to get rid of the scumbags in the game that just don’t learn (props to Matt Cooke for learning quick, got to respect that).

The culture around concussions needs to change too. For everyone that is pushing to get more research and more procedures around how to handle concussions, you get a million meathead fans calling players with concussions “pussies” or to just “shake it off.” Clearly, they’ve never had a concussion or had to take care of/worry about someone they love who is suffering from a concussion.

We also have all the teams (I’m looking at you, Chicago Blackhawks) who refuse to acknowledge when a player has a concussion. What possible advantage does saying someone has an upper-body injury give you over saying they have a concussion? And if your reason is because you’re worried about opponents taking advantage of that, then the respect levels in this sport are deeper in the shitter than I thought possible.

The NHL is fortunate that most players have been able to come back from concussions (Crosby, Toews, Landeskog, Horton, I won’t go on, it’ll take forever), but one day, a superstar won’t. Or maybe a kid with an incredibly bright future won’t. Or maybe it’ll just continue to be so-so defensemen (has anyone seen Kim Johnsson?) or 4th liners disappearing quietly into the night (and their blacked out bedrooms because they can’t handle sunlight anymore) and no one will really notice or care except those poor souls and their families.

I don’t know, maybe I’ve just got my shit all bent out of shape for nothing, but I truly think that concussions and treatment of concussions won’t be taken seriously until someone dies or a superstar’s career ends. I mean besides Marc Savard, and Eric Lindros, and Paul Kariya and…

18 thoughts on “Face It: The NHL Gives Zero Fucks About Concussions

  1. Crushed it. My feelings on this are similar to yours (I’m sure we’ve had a few discussions about this). One day, someone’s not going to get up. Ever. No tentative comebacks, no heart-rending stories about having to sit in dark room. Just a guy, gone. I think we all know where that leads: a funeral, a retired number, and Congressional grand-standing. I would think that wanting to keep Congress out of our beloved game would be high on the owners’ minds. We know just how much they LOVE regulation in their daily businesses.

    Anyways, that took quire the left turn there. Hmmm.

    Rock on.

  2. There have been articles floating around that the new CBA removed the quiet room requirement…haven’t read it, couldn’t say personally.

    The culture around concussions definitely needs to change. the league isn’t doing enough, but the players have to be held responsible. The league can create disincentives, but at the end of the day the players have to buy in, control their actions, tell the teams honestly how their heads are etc. I just don’t know what rule changes will get through to the players, not that this excuses the NHL from trying.

    • Beth:

      Yes, I heard that the “Quiet Room” was removed from the new CBA as well, but the only thing I saw stating that also said that the League refutes that claim, so….yay?

      You also make an excellent point about the players. That culture of “I’M A MAN DAMMIT” needs to change as well. And I think that more research and available information will hopefully start to make players realize that they need to be careful with their damn brains. But you’re right, the League should be trying regardless.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. As someone who is fighting the after effects of a concussion myself, maybe I can share my perspective on the subject. I was playing in a club game in college and I took an elbow to the temple and hit the back of my head off the ice. I was dazed initially and had a bit of a headache but I thought nothing of it and I continued playing. I am normally a goalie and I played in net the next day and had one of my best games of the year. I only thought something was wrong when I kept getting headaches for the next two weeks, and during that time I kept playing hockey and going to classes. Once spring break hit the real symptoms showed up and I have been dealing with them for the past two years.

    My point is that the quiet room would have done nothing, and in all likelihood does nothing a lot of the time because it takes a bit to realize there is a problem, especially when the adrenaline is pumping. The obvious cases are when a player is clearly having trouble getting off the ice under his own power or isn’t even able to do that. But are a lot of cases like mine where it just looks like a big hit and it takes a while to show how bad it is, during which things can get a lot worse. It is even hard to test for since the IMPact tests can be inconclusive. I can pass one easily despite the fact that I still have problems.

    Another point is that knowledge about concussions is hard to grasp for people who have never experienced it, like you mentioned. People don’t understand how you can get dizzy from just being in a crowd, or how you can’t focus no matter how hard you try, because it is even hard to put into words when it is happening to you. I knew nothing about concussions until I was officially diagnosed and I had played competitively for 16 years to that point. Because of the problem at explaining the issue and even detecting the concussion itself, people don’t understand the dangers of it, across any level of hockey. And unless you have the serious problems it’s hard to understand why a simple headache should keep you from playing a sport you live for. Unless it has happened to you, you tend not to take the issue too seriously since, as you mentioned, the culture of hockey dictates you have to be tough. Everyone loves the big hits, but very few even contemplate the damage that can be done because of them.

    I enjoyed the article and while I agree that the NHL can and should take more steps to help the players, a lot of it is on the players to not only show that level of respect for their opposition, but to also take care of themselves and not take chances with the injury and try to will themselves though it. And the only way to really do that is to make sure that every level of hockey has a better understanding of the problems that concussions can cause.

    Sorry for rambling a bit there.

    • Mik:

      Thanks so much for all the sharing! That was good stuff.

      Yes, I do realize that the Quiet Room won’t catch all concussions, as you said. My main issue with the Quiet Room is that it was a farce. Completely in every way. I also agree 100% that players need more education about what the effects, both short term and long term, are in regards to concussions.

      All the points you raise are valid and I agree with you. I’ve never personally had a concussion but dealt with someone who had one and saw all you mentioned up close. It’s scary stuff and the players need to be protected.

      Education education education.

      Thanks again for sharing Mik!

  4. There is not much for me to add, except my own story. I played roller hockey, mid-level men’s recreational ice hockey, and tried out for the club team where I went to school. Understanding what I do now, at 25, about concussions, I think I received between 5 and 13 concussions between 12 and 23, when I quit playing.

    I get debilitating headaches multiple times a week. Dizzy spells with severe nausea have come from stepping down a stair too hard, standing up quickly, driving down a highway, or having conversations. I have missed dozens of days of work when sunlight was too painful to even step outside.

    My wife does almost all of the driving, because I can be a real risk to myself and others in heavy traffic if dizziness sets in on the road. I have gained a disgusting amount of weight because I am still so limited with how often and how hard I can work out (that plus the diet of a student). I am back in school to get a degree that will give me a better chance to work from home.

    I am still learning how to cope with my brain.

    Anyway, I makes me furious to see how often NHL players will just throw themselves at another player’s head with as much force as they can muster. Any culture that is ENCOURAGING of that kind of recklessness is a culture that deserves to die.

    I love hockey, but want my future children to have no part of it if this attitude towards brain damage is not changed. I wish I had something more insightful to offer.

  5. Pingback: OHL fighting restrictions paying off « Jared P.D. Clinton

  6. YOU are a COMPLETE moron if you think that Kaleta hit on Richards is even in the same category as the hit the swiss player received!! Richards and Kaleta were STANDING 5 ft from the boards when Kaleta hit Richards, the other two were racing down the length of the ice to reach the puck. They are not even REMOTELY similar and you are nothing but an idiot for even attempting to compare them!!

    whale

    • Dear whale,

      Firstly, let me commend you for your ability to type out a full paragraph (albeit with gratuitous punctuation and capitalization) without the use of opposable thumbs. Exemplary.

      Secondly, it’s totally the same. A guy getting shoved head-first into the boards. Yes, the circumstances are different. The Swiss player was racing alongside the other player for the puck, while Richards was simply shielding the puck from Kaleta (which, in my humble opinion makes the Kaleta hit pretty un-fucking-justifiable). Yet, I fail to see why the “push from behind” that both hitters utilized is different in either situation.

      Thirdly, can I play with your blowhole?

      Love,

      Kelly the Human.

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