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How much is enough?

Concussions and player choice.

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Three Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

How much responsibility lies with the individual NHL player when it comes to their health?

I think sooner or later this might be the fundamental question that will be addressed in a court of law.

Sidney Crosby was diagnosed with another concussion in game 3 of the Penguins series with Washington after taking a stick to the head and then smacking his head to the ice. This was not his first, second or third concussion. Crosby returned last night to play in game six and hit his head hard again into the boards. Last night and today, people are asking why the NHL concussion spotters didn’t make him sit in the quiet room. It is a valid question, but I have a different set of questions.

1.) Why didn’t one of the Penguins coaches sit him out for a while?

2.) Why does it seem that the league is the one taking sole blame for the actions of its players, coaches, teams and doctors?

3.) Why didn’t Sidney Crosby take himself out?

The growing knowledge of what concussions are, how they affect people differently and the long-term consequences of concussions add layers of responsibility to more than just the league.

Here is another “when I was young” story.

When I was young, I played baseball and I was in a league with future MLB pitcher Ryan Dempster. He was 18 and threw in the low 90s, but had control issues. During one at bat he had an issue that hit me on the side of the helmet and took me to the ground. The ringing started to subside after 30 seconds and 2 minutes later I was bent over first base still hoping the world would stop spinning. Concussion protocol was a little different back then. Just try to stay awake for a few hours and you should be fine, was usually the treatment.

I would tend to believe that the treatment for concussions would be a little more advanced and the idea of preventing future occurrences would be a priority. NHL players have been advocating for more prevention when it comes to equipment and style of play. But I think the last point is more lip service that reality. NHL players want everyone to be more responsible for their stick and reduce hitting players who are in an unsafe position. All of these are great points and the NHLPA and the league have to been working together to try and create a safer environment on the ice. (degree of success is debatable if you compare the goal versus reality)

Let’s be honest with each other. The NHL can take out fighting and hitting and concussions can still happen. The game is fast and the players are big and there are many different scenarios where a player can run into another guy or the boards or the glass or the ice and get a concussion. But the real concern for me is after a player gets a concussion is how fast does that player get back out there and play. If there is so much concern about Crosby and history of concussions, why in the hell is the coaching staff, the Penguins doctors, and the owners of the Penguins letting Crosby get back out there? This is where I think everyone is just giving concussions and their consequences lip service. “We are worried about player safety!” and yet it’s the playoffs and so he has to play.

If I had access to Crosby, I would probably only get to ask one question because I doubt he would want to answer it and I would get escorted out. But here is the question I would ask him,

“Sid, you have had multiple concussions and you are going to have more serious issues later on in life. You have been spoken about your experiences with concussions and how the league can address this problem. But Sid, do you realize that you are part of the problem? You know the possible medical and quality of life issues you will face after hockey. You’ve admitted in interviews that it’s hard to know when you’ve “fully” healed and yet rushed back to play in game 6. People want to blame the league spotters for not pulling you from game 6 when you went into the boards head-first, but should you have been playing in the first place.”

I doubt Sidney would answer my question. And nor should he if he was thinking long term and any possible legal actions that players and the NHLPA might want to try and take against owners over past league policies. The owners are getting better at covering themselves against medical lawsuits and they will continue to point out that players can make their own decisions when it comes to their health. Players like Crosby have to be the leader when it comes to player health instead of the cliché hockey player that “wants to be there for his teammates and do his part to win a Cup.”

Sooner or later players will have to stop waiting for the league to “fix” medical issues like concussions. Sidney Crosby doesn’t need the money and while he may want to win another Cup, he should be asking himself if it’s worth it to keep playing. And if he’s not, then I think he has already had too many concussions.