Vulgar Opinions: Concussions, Where Do You Draw The Line?
So at this point in the 2011-2012 NHL season, barely halfway through, it seems like every team has not only had a player miss time due to a concussion, but a prominent player at that. This epidemic reminds me of my time spent in college. You see, I majored in Environmental Engineering, a part of which deals with the contaminants in things that we eat or drink. There’s a small problem with that; we as human being have aversions to things that are bad for us, but as we progress technologically we find that virtually everything we touch possess harmful materials in some quantity.
That’s why standards get written. At some point you have to say there’s X amount of Arsenic or Mercury or PCBs or whatever in this particular compound, but only 4X amount is where it starts to get really bad for us. (I had a class called Human Exposure Analysis which I fondly called “everything you touch is killing you slowly,” because the number of harmful and/or carcinogenic materials in things we touch daily is staggering.) You draw a line in the sand somewhere.
Which brings me to concussions; if the NHL’s detection ability and concussion protocols are getting to the point where we find that these things are vastly more common than we could have ever guessed…we have a problem. You can’t have the superstars of a majority of NHL teams seeing pressbox time because of these hits to the head. The NFL saw this a few years ago, in the 2007-2008 season I believe, where something like 60-70% of the starting quarterbacks in the league (the most marketable players and the players that make the sport watchable) missed time due to injury.
There are two ways you can approach this. The first is attempting to eliminate the dangerous play that causes these injuries at the risk of eliminating some unidentifiable amount of physical play along with it. (In my opinion the NFL has done a pretty good job at this.) The second is that at some point you admit that playing this sport carries a certain amount of risk and you create a benchmark where that risk is too high and players aren’t allowed to play.
Unfortunately I am forced to admit that my title is not rhetorical; I’m seriously asking. This is a big problem, and we might not even be seeing the worst of it. What the hell do we do? (Granted it doesn’t help that the NHL has been completely inept at best in eliminating reckless play.) Do we go one step further with headshot rules? Do we call for better equipment, do we widen the ice? Do we tell players, “hey you’re at the risk of having the cognitive abilities of a mental patient when you retire, and if you’re okay with playing, that’s your business and you go right ahead?” (God I hope not because these guys are going to play until they can literally pick pieces of themselves up off the ice. The Steve Youngs and the Troy Aikmans that can look into the future and make good decisions are rare. For every one of them, there are twenty Marc Savards that are ready to drop the gloves the day they return from a concussion and can’t see past the fist that’s about to hit them in the face and turn them from a human being into a bipedal Golden Retriever.)
Something needs to happen, because what’s in place right now isn’t good enough.