The overlap between the NFL and the NHL has sparked a few comparisons between the way the leagues handle concussions.
The most recent examination of this was presented by Yahoo!Sports’ Puck Daddy blog, which took the NHL to task for not being as proactive as the NFL.
Again, the NFL isn’t doing anything now, but it’s at least getting some wheels in motion on the matter. Over the weekend, it announced a partnership with General Electric to develop ways to better protect against concussions, and detect whether they’ve occurred. Part of that includes contributions of $50 million over the next four years. In addition, the NFLPA finally pushed through its efforts to have independent neurologists present on sidelines during games to better assess whether players have suffered concussions during play; this after a PA survey found that 78 percent of NFLers trust their teams’ medical staff “not at all,” and only 43 percent consider their trainers to be “good.”
So what does all this have to do with the NHL? It only scores to underscore how little the League is doing with regard to the rash of head injuries now being suffered league-wide, and to change the culture surrounding it.
In the past week or so, Gabriel Landeskog, James Wisniewski, Wayne Simmonds and Shawn Thornton all suffered apparent concussions during games. Landeskog on a legal hit, Wisniewski when his teammate ran into him and he went flying into the end boards, Simmonds when he got elbowed in the face, and Thornton when John Scott punched him in the head a bunch of times.
The biggest criticism Puck Daddy lays at the feet of the NHL is the deletion of an innovative “quiet room” in every arena for concussion victims.
Imagine, for example, if the NFL had instituted an admirable program like the NHL’s “quiet room” to evaluate players after they got their bells rung. Cheers all around, even if it was only precipitated by the league’s biggest star getting concussed at least once in the space of a week, if not twice.
Then imagine the furor when the NFL quietly did away with the Quiet Room, as the NHL did, mostly because it wasn’t working as it was intended. Guys want to play through getting hit in the head, and a lot of the time they feel fine in the immediate aftermath because concussion symptoms can take as long as a few days. No trainer or doctor employed by the team, it’s been said, is going to tell NHL Star X that he can’t play when he says he can.
And please note, by the way, that in getting rid of the Quiet Room, the NHL actually now lags behind the NFL in its approach to concussions. No partnership with GE, no independent neurologists. Just the hope all this goes away and guys don’t get concussed. Plus, at least the NFL has some pretty clear penalties for hitting guys in the head. In the NHL, we have to break down video frame by frame to see if the head was the principal point of contact or if maybe a checker brushed up against a checkee’s chest for one or two 24ths of a second before he drove his shoulder into his face and gave him a concussion.
While the NHL has since disputed that the quiet room was eliminated, Puck Daddy says it still isn’t doing enough for its players.
Personally, if it comes down to getting to watch a league with guys like Gabriel Landeskog or Sidney Crosby not getting concussed, or one with him on the sidelines because of a “clean hit,” then I’m choosing the former every time.
We as hockey fans have grown rather accustomed to the NHL embarrassing itself. But when the bigger, better-known North American sports league is being scoffed at for its pitiful attempts to protect its players, while doing more for them than the NHL does, that’s just mortifying.
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor