I want to talk about concussions. I always want to talk about concussions, so I’ll do it early and get it out of the way.
We know head injuries are a danger, a thorny problem, a challenge and a conundrum for refs and trainers and GMs and players and medical researchers. Getting hit in the head is bad for you. It really is that simple. But I don’t want to talk about what concussions are, I want to talk about talking about them, and about the Sharks talking about them.
I don’t know which Sharks, except for Ian White, suffered concussions last season. There were several possibilities, lots of guys out with vaguely dubbed “upper body injuries.” Usually, no one tells us if they have a concussion.
Dan Boyle told us. He told us he did NOT have one. I thought that was most excellent of him. Ryane Clowe joked about it when asked what he thought of a Canuck saying Clowe had a concussion. I guess that was almost like telling us he didn’t have one, but not quite.
Dan Boyle’s blatant departure from the policy was unique in that regard, as he is unique in so many ways. But whoops, by doing that he sort of put the rest of the team in a bind. Now, when they won’t tell us, we can assume “yep, it’s a concussion.”
I’ve heard the justification for this code of quiet: other teams really don’t need to know where you’re hurting. That makes sense in a grisly way, even if those other teams can probably guess where a player is hurting, the way a big cat can tell which wildebeest is the most likely to fall behind. Even if they can guess, there’s no need to tell them, even by laughing at them.
If you really want to get dark, you could wonder if injury details might reduce a player’s value in free agency or trade, not only with the Oilers. Gross. I need a sec to shake that thought off.
Concussions are special. It may seem unfeeling of me, but I don’t worry about players finishing their careers with one arm and no sensation below the left knee. Life is going to kill you anyway, no need to play it safe. I don’t want those injuries to occur, and I’m sure they would be awful to live with, but the brain is still more special than other parts.
The rules say you are not supposed to try to hit anyone in the head, unless you’re in a fight, when you pretty much only hit them in the head. (…?) In principle, the head is already out of bounds. Also, everyone is vulnerable there, so the theory of not naming a concussion doesn’t work as well as it does for a shoulder, a hand, a knee, etc.
Additionally, current protocols, assuming you follow them, say that you’re not going back in the game unless you are symptom-free, or can do a bang up job of pretending to be. In theory, a player who has sustained and recovered from a concussion should not be more vulnerable than anyone else, not like a guy who plays even though he can’t lift his arm to dress himself.
True, anyone who has had a concussion is more vulnerable than they were before, but the rules and the policies are not addressing that yet, so neither will I.
Need to Know
What would the point be of telling the public that a player has a concussion? I believe there is a connection between talking about concussions and the reasons the NHL gives for being slow to reduce the number of brain injuries: fans love the game just the way it is. Whether it is speed or hard hits or fights, it’s usually put back on us.
We know that brain injuries suck. Some people do better than others: some live long lives virtually symptom-free, others never quite shake the effects, and still others end up with fatal neurological disorders that slowly and painfully kill them young. As with many things, you can’t really detect who will get lucky and who won’t.
Would it make any difference if we knew who was up next in the concussion lottery? I think it would. The NHL got traction (kicked in the ass) when Sidney Crosby was sidelined with a concussion. Love him or hate him as a hockey personality, Crosby is high profile. The imperfect state of his brain made stickier media fodder than the state of all the other brains battered by hockey. Data coming out of the NFL (including law suits) may have also been taken into consideration. Did the NHL change enough? I doubt it, but I hope it will help.
What if each team let their fan base know when a player had a concussion? Would seeing a name and a face we recognize, instead of some vague number, soften us up for other changes?
Is there any reason to cater to such a squeamish audience? Is there even a place for heart-strings in hockey? Shouldn’t we just send those people home and refund their tickets? There can’t be more than 12 of them anyway, right?
Ask and Do Tell
Some teams do tell, especially when the player is out for an extended period and/or there is a suspension to lobby for. The new rules alert us to the possibility of a concussion with the Quiet Room. But not every concussion goes through the Quiet Room. If fans really knew who and when, as well as how many, would we be more open to those changes we are presumed to be opposed to?
Am I being vague about these changes? That’s because no one will tell me what it is I have vetoed, not really. They said something about icing and no head contact and tougher calls. I still feel like no one will tell me what the NHL can’t do that I won’t like. I want a list. With pictures.
While the NHL is running around in that circle, I wish that the Sharks would add a term to the injury list and start saying “upper-body (not head),” “lower-body,” or “head” injury. Northern California is actually known for trend-setting, though in some parts of Hockeyland we might as well be North of Narnia.
Take the leap and tell us all about it, every time. We really do want to know. I think.