Saturday, November 14, 2009

Headshots Must be Dealt with by the NHL

There was plenty of talk at the General Manager's meeting this past week in Toronto regarding headshots in the NHL. As expected, nothing was resolved on the issue; the GM's decided to postpone a decision until their next meeting. While some GM's are starting to come around, one has to wonder what is taking so long. There is adequate information from new research that reveals the long-term, devastating effects of head injuries and the dangers of repeated concussions.

Last Spring, when the NHL discussed the value of fighting in the league, there was an uproar from all sides, management, players and fans. Canadiens enforcer Georges Laraque was invited to speak with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to plead the case of the enforcers. When will the league be more open to a discussion on headshots? Why not form a committee with Eric Lindros, Pat Lafontaine, Keith Primeau and current players like Chris Drury and Sheldon Souray? These men have had first hand experience with repeated concussions and their voices must be heard.

In my conversations with Primeau and Sports Legacy Institute co-founder Chris Nowinski during the summer, both expressed a desire to see a change in the NHL. Primeau would like to see a rule in place that properly deals with headshots on unsuspecting players and Nowinski would like to see the awareness of the long-term effects of repeated concussions properly explained to the players. Primeau made a great point in our interview - he worries that concussions will become a part of the NHL's business model; much like knee injuries and sports hernias.

Part of the problem when dealing with head injuries is that every concussion is different and the effects on each player varies. Do teams rush back their stars too soon, leaving them vulnerable to secondary and tertiary concussions, which may lead them along the same road that Primeau and Nowinski have both been on?

It would appear that Primeau’s fears are coming true; as the current NHL season approaches the quarter-mark, here is a list of the players in the NHL watching from the sidelines due to concussions:

Michael Ryan - Carolina (out until at least mid-November), Andreas Lilja - Detroit (out indefinitely), Sheldon Souray - Edmonton (currently on Edmonton’s road trip but still out), Robert Nilsson - Edmonton (day-to-day with head injury, concussed last season), David Booth - Florida (out until late November at best), Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Minnesota (on IR, out indefinitely), Petr Sykora - Minnesota (out indefinitely), Matt D’Agostini - Montreal (mid to late November), Chris Drury - New York Rangers (listed as doubtful, has missed several games and may end up on the IR), Ole-Kristian Tollefson - Philadelphia (mid to late November), Kurt Sauer - Phoenix (on IR with headaches, missed 28 games between Dec. 07 - Feb. 08 with concussion), Jamie Heward - Toronto (out indefinitely)

Here are the players recently returned to the line-up after being concussed this season:

Jonathan Toews - Chicago, Ben Eager - Chicago, Darcy Tucker - Colorado, Steve Staios - Edmonton, James van Reimsdyk - Philadelphia, Victor Hedman - Tampa Bay

So let’s get this straight, eliminating “staged fights” led to an immediate reaction from the NHL. In a quick search through the NHL’s injury report, 17 players are out or have missed significant time due to concussions and head injuries but the NHL will discuss the situation at a later date and may make changes in time for next season. How many more names will be on this list by the end of the season?

The time to change is now and it is up to us as sports fans to demand change and make the NHL accountable for the safety and the future of its players. The situation does not only include the number of games lost to this injury, the lives of the players after they retire are at stake as well.

In the interview for Main Street/The Voice of Sport, Primeau and Nowinski were asked, how they are now - five years after their last head injuries. Both men let out a slow exhale and said they are slowly getting better but believed that they may never be 100%. Both men were eager to return to a normal life, free of headaches and post-concussion symptoms. Both men have lived through the nightmare of post-concussion syndrome, why are we not listening to them! Have a great sports day everyone - and remember to play safe!

Photo by:nac888 on Flickr

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