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THN.com Blog: Clear-thinking must rule concussion debate

T.J. Oshie is hit by George Parros in a game this season. Hits like these are dangerous, though legal, for all hockey players. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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T.J. Oshie is hit by George Parros in a game this season. Hits like these are dangerous, though legal, for all hockey players. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Hockey players have been chastised for being cliche machines off the ice, but while playing, typically, they’re great communicators.

It’s only natural to scream for a pass when a scoring chance presents itself, but that’s not necessarily when players are at their most vocal. Often, that moment occurs when a teammate is in danger, looking back for a pass while a burly opposition defenseman bears down. A chorus of “Heads up!” from the bench has long been the alarm bell that signals imminent danger.

Too bad it’s a little more muted off the ice.

Never far from the news to begin with, the concussion conversation has once again slammed its way into the hockey conscious with the ferocity of a Scott Stevens almost-elbow thanks to two recent jaw-jolting hits.

Hopefully, Jonathan Toews and Marc-Andre Bergeron can tell you all about them.

There’s no sense dragging out every aspect of the concussion debate other than to say, as far as things have come, you can never be too careful when dealing with something that can have such a dreadful long-term impact on a person’s life.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell has been making the rounds recently, talking about an insightful article he wrote on the fate of some ex-football players.

As long as teams are still loathe to call concussions “concussions” – with vague vernacular like “he got his bell rung” passing for a post-game medical report – people need to be diligent about not letting this debate die.

Head injuries are a deceptive beast because, often, the ramifications lie in wait rather than immediately presenting their detriments in full. That’s why caution is always the best call.

Player awareness about this issue has grown tremendously over the past 10 to 15 years, but it’s crucial to note the starting point was essentially somewhere in the dark ages. Pro sports are a macho scene and wouldn’t be nearly as fun to watch or participate in if that wasn’t the case.
And as much as the pressure to “suck it up” has undoubtedly dwindled over time, there are still forces at play beyond “how do I feel?” that influence a player’s self diagnosis.

It may no longer be a six-team league, but NHL jobs remain at a premium and nobody wants to grease the slope out the door by missing games.

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But anyone with a vague notion of what it’s like to deal with the effects of post-concussion syndrome knows it’s an existence to be avoided at all cost. Self-evident as it seems, it’s worth pointing out brains aren’t bones and discovering the discrepancy in how each heals can be a frightening and painful experience.

Foresight eludes youth with astonishing regularity and pro athletes get to be younger for longer than any of us. Quite frankly, they need to be told what’s what from time to time, but instruction has to come from a relatable source.

Opinions emanating from guys who make a living tapping on keyboards or in front of TV cameras are too easy to dismiss with the ever-popular “you never played the game, so what do you know?” logic. Guys like Keith Primeau and Eric Lindros hold a little more sway.

Both men have been very outspoken about their post-career struggles stemming from concussion issues and, hopefully, their words aren’t falling on deaf ears.

Teams employ highly competent doctors to take care of their most valued resource, their players. And while I would never question the integrity of those medical professionals, concussions are an issue that demand objective, transparent evaluations.

If the league can staff each game with a crew of people to decide whether a puck crossed a line, why not have an NHL-appointed doctor on hand with a set of rigid guidelines in-hand to determine whether a player is fit to return to the ice?
Because, really, the more clear-headed thinking attached to this problem, the better.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.


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