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The Elephant in the Shed

NHL hits are broadcast for the public to see on tv, but their consequences are usually not. Some teams do not make concussions public. I’m just guessing, but if two Penguins have been out with concussions, one Blues player, one Star, and one Flyer, probably at least one SJ Shark has suffered a concussion this season.  Even the math challenged like me can figure that out.  How many? What about all the other “concussion free” teams in the league?

Why should anyone tell me?

There’s a story about an elephant that was kept at a Vegas casino for guests to see. They tried to make it stand on its hind legs and it tore tendons so it couldn’t do the trick and also was in horrible agony. Instead of treating it or shooting it, they put it in a shed out behind the parking lot. It made a lot of noise, being kept alone and in pain.

But they still let guests go look at it. It was a long time before animal rights activists got authority to have it seized and euthanized. During that time, a steady stream of guests went to see it in its shed.  The guests didn’t know it was in pain, they had never seen or heard an elephant before. They didn’t know what they were looking at.

I don’t know if I’m remembering the details of that story accurately but that was the gist of it.  If the guests had known, how many would have gone in?  Taken their children?  How many would have said “Hold on, that’s wrong! Do something!”

I think if hockey fans knew how many severe injuries were happening right under our noses, we might be more amenable to changes in the game that would protect players.

17% of concussions are caused by illegal hits. That’s a big chunk so it helps to cut those out. No one misses them.

Get rid of dangerous rink issues. I don’t think it’s impossible to eliminate vertical glass wall edges.  Slope them, that way it’s harder to get wrapped around them.

Tell the fans what’s going on.  I think if we knew the real numbers we would be more open to ideas like a bigger ice surface and getting rid of fights (8% of concussions).

Yes, I touched the sacred cow.  I would be happy to poke it in the eye.  Everyone has a blow to the head limit.  I’d rather not see it wasted on legal intentional hits to the head.  Fights also delay the game.

Finally, take anyone who gets hit in the head out of the game, along with the guy who hit him. The first step for treatment of a concussion is to stop whatever the hell you are doing and rest, preferably before you develop headaches, dizziness, nausea, etc.  That flies in the face of the tough guy mystique. I say tough. It makes money sense and health sense. Treat sooner, play sooner.  The GMs are considering such a protocol this week:

…If a player is suspected of being concussed during a game, that player must then be removed from the bench and taken to a quiet area where the player can be assessed by a medical doctor, who is not the team’s athletic therapist. The player will then be given a SCAT test before he is cleared to return to play. -TSN.ca

That idea poses an obvious strategic problem because teams could send some minimally useful fourth liner in to hit a skilled player in the head. It doesn’t have to be a hard hit. I think the NHL could find ways to make that an unattractive option, I just don’t know how. Fines for teams only go so far, suspending a player for the season and leaving their salary on the cap could help but it could also backfire since any such measure requires a showing of intent. We’ve seen how well that works out. You end up with Joe Thornton suspended for the season and Matt Cooke still inexplicably playing.

I understand why most teams stay quiet about injury details. But I believe it would help to be open about the concussion names and numbers.  I have those numbers up there, they have been published, the “how many.”  Why do I need to know the names? Because putting a name and a face on it brings the necessary emotional punch to the party.  It isn’t enough to have some vague notion that hockey is dangerous.  Fans get attached to their players, they are emotional about the game.  Percentages don’t ring in your head like “Lappy” or “Sid” or “Patch” or Perron or Asham or Richards or Mitchell… Bring that emotion to the negotiating table and maybe you will get somewhere.

Telling the GMs and those who “need to know” is not good enough.  The people who “need to know” turn around and say the fans want the game to stay exactly the way it is, while keeping us in the dark about how it really is.

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