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"We take concussions very seriously," says the National Hockey League.
"Oh really? That's great," says the sports fan. "How?"
"Umm well you see…" replies the NHL, trailing off and looking at the tops of its feet.
The latest evidence of the league paying all the necessary lip service to the necessity for proper handling of concussions, but without doing anything to mandate that its clubs or players follow those protocols, comes to us from hardscrabble Philadelphia.
Marc-Andre Bourdon had been called up by the Flyers on Nov. 21 when both Braydon Coburn and Chris Pronger were on the sidelines, and remained with the team for 39 straight games. He picked up his concussion at some point in early February, but tried to play through it so he could retain his spot in the lineup.
That part is bad enough. Awful, really. But then the team traded for both Nicklas Grossmann and Pavel Kubina just two days apart on Feb. 16 and 18, respectively, and sent Bourdon back to Adirondack. This prompted the first of two terrifying quotes from Bourdon, as told to Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News:
"I guess if I had known they were going to make those trades, I would have said something beforehand," Bourdon said. "But when they did, I didn't make a big deal out of it."
Bourdon is, of course, partly at fault for not telling anyone, and he paid the price not only monetarily — he lost thousands of dollars by being on the shelf at the AHL level instead of with the big club — but also because he, you know, played at least a few games with a concussion. After being sent down on Feb. 18, Bourdon didn't play a game in either the AHL or NHL until an Adirondack/Syracuse game on St. Patrick's Day. Which brings us to the second shocking quote:
"But I didn't want to be one of those guys that they thought I was just trying to milk a paycheck. So, when I got [to Adirondack], I just asked for some time off. I didn't know what else to do."
So this was Bourdon's line of thinking, at the end of the day: "Well jeez, I have a serious brain injury that is currently making my life a terrible nightmare of dizziness, headaches, disorientation, but I don't want the team to think I'm a sissy, which they will if I actually tell them that."
It is, obviously, very troubling indeed that a player even thinks like that, but then again you have to think about the culture that engenders the mindset: We already know that the Flyers have an appalling disregard for the seriousness of concussions.
Recall how they tried to peer pressure Claude Giroux into returning from his back in December on HBO 24/7. Now granted, there is a big difference between a player of Giroux's caliber and one of Bourdon's, but a player is a player, and a concussion is something that should be treated seriously regardless of whether it's a star or a borderline NHL rookie.
Reality dictates this is not ever going to be the case, especially because the article Seravalli wrote wasn't full of quotes from Flyers management saying, "This is a terrible thing that has happened!" and "We want all our players to be as forthright as possible about concussions for their own sake, without regard for how we'll feel about it."
Instead, there's this from Peter Laviolette:
"He's been terrific. He's where he left off when we moved him back [to Adirondack]. He moves the puck well. He skates well. He's physical. He's done a really nice job."
In fact, the story doesn't even address that Bourdon played through a concussion, albeit successfully, and instead focuses on the tenacity it takes to compete for a roster spot on a Flyers D corps ravaged by injury. That includes, just by the way and totally coincidentally, Chris Pronger's career-threatening concussion problems of his own.
The implication, therefore, is that what he did is admirable, and not stupid as hell and dangerous and something that should bring shame on the organization that it allowed this to happen.
You'd think, given how everyone talks about this kind of thing, that this would be a huge story. A guy hid a concussion from his team, then missed a month after getting sent down only because it couldn't damage his career opportunities? Should be plastered everywhere.
It was on Deadspin, and it was in the Philadelphia Daily News. And that's it. Not mentioned here on Puck Daddy, until now, and only discussed in passing as a link on Broad Street Hockey, which has the most comprehensive Flyers coverage everywhere (the first comment on the issue comes pretty deep in that post opens by saying the poster "respects" Bourdon for trying to play through it).
And it would be one thing if it was an isolated incident. You could pass it off as one player doing it one time for noble enough reasons (as far as he's concerned), or one organization. But it's not.
Recall, if you will, that Colby Armstrong hid a concussion earlier this season, and was only busted on it because he was caught literally vomiting in a trash can.
When this fact was revealed, Brian Burke came out hard against his winger doing so.
"Everyone tries to play hurt, but you should never try to conceal a head injury — no one admires that or respects that," Burke said at the time. "We grudgingly respect when players hide other injuries, because they do it routinely. (Head injuries are) one where we absolutely insist the players be forthcoming."
And so we can infer that if two guys have gotten caught doing it in the past five months or so, more have done it successfully, or at least not revealed it publicly, throughout the course of this season, as well as those in the past. Tough-guy retired players have brought up that they probably picked up dozens of concussions throughout their careers and played through them because that's just what you did, but that kind of mentality should not and, indeed, cannot be allowed to fly in 2012.
All this could have been addressed, and should have been, by the league. Mark Spector wrote a really great story not too long ago about the unheralded death of the Quiet Room. How apropos. After the NHL came out and stomped up and down about how this revolutionary concussion evaluation protocol, mandated by league rule, would help to protect players in the wake of the scary Chara/Pacioretty incident. It then scaled the rule back considerably with little fanfare, because that's not the sort of thing you go around shouting about. Not that teams followed it anyway.
"It comes down to the players," Adam Burish told Spector. "A guy's up for a contract, are you going to tell him he can't play when he's your best player. (Is the trainer) going to tell Daniel Sedin, 'I think you have a concussion. You can't play?' He's going to say, 'I'm fine.' Are you going to tell the coach, 'He says he's fine, but I'm not going to play Daniel Sedin because I'm a doctor?' Nothing can change."
I don't know how many times I or anyone else is going to have to write columns that more or less say, "The way the league and its teams and players view concussions is bad and dangerous," but apparently, it's a lot.
Henrik Zetterberg wasn't concussed when Shea Weber punched him in the back of the head and then drilled his face into the glass like Hulk Hogan? Must not be worth a suspension! It's the playoffs, after all.
Like Burish said, nothing can change. At least not until the league takes a good hard look at the way in which concussions are viewed from the top down. The problem is that you can't impose sanctions for this type of thing. Can't fine the players for not saying anything, can't discipline the team for not knowing something a player refuses to tell it. Why, it's almost like it needs to mandate a rule that requires teams to completely and thoroughly evaluate players who get hit in the head during games. I wonder what we could call such a rule.
Oh and hey gee whiz wouldn't you know it, Bourdon is now on day-to-day with an upper-body injury after getting hit up high in the second period of Wednesday night's Game 1 with Pittsburgh.
We can all read between the lines on that one, and I'm sure it's going to be handled with the utmost responsibility by all involved.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on being cool: "So let me get this straight. Grown men still ask hairdressers to 'frost their tips?'"
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