When the NHL announced its Five Simple Steps for Safety plan on Monday, the new concussion protocols appeared to be one of the common sense highlights: Ensuring that a player who has "shown certain objective symptoms or has been involved in certain situations" is taken off the ice into "a quiet place to be evaluated by a team physician under the SCAT-2 procedures."
Extra steps to ensure proper diagnosis of concussions seemed like a shrewd move. Reader Ben Berry of Boston, on the other hand, called it a "red herring" that's meant to placate critics without affecting real change.
We're all about expanding the conversation here, so we offered Ben (a triathlete, hockey player and husband to an NCAA Div. 1 athletic trainer) a forum. Here's what Ben had to say:
"Athletic Trainers (Athletic Therapists in Canada) are board certified medical professionals. They are trained to recognize even subtle signs of concussion. No trainer worth their salt is going to send a concussed player back on the ice. League mandated protocols are a red herring, to make people think they're actually doing something.
"In reality, the equipment and the lack of respect for players still account for about 70% of the concussions, if you account for the fact that some of the 'accidental' concussions are caused by the inability of the helmet to protect players who fall to the ice.
"An equipment change should move players back to the hip check, which would drastically reduce concussions from contact hits. However, the equipment changes seems unlikely at best, at least in the NHL. Too many companies make too much money armoring up these players, and reduced equipment doesn't sell for as much money. The respect issue has been around since before Toe Blake, so that's not likely to change until the 'Stop' sign is on the back of every jersey, if even then.
"My wife is the ATC (athletic trainer, certified) for BU Women's Hockey, a D1 college program. Incidence of concussion is actually significantly higher in D1 women's hockey than it is in the NHL! (There are publicly available statistics to verify this) And it has nothing to do with the trainers not being able to diagnose concussions or coaches forcing injured athletes onto the ice. It's about the amount of protection provided to the players slightly more fragile bodies. And this is a 'no contact' league.
"While respect for opponents may never change, changes to equipment could bring about a major improvement."
The 5-point plan also covered equipment standards, and we have an interview later this week with the head of a major hockey apparel company about that topic as well. Thanks to Ben for offering his dissenting take on this issue.