August 25, 2011
It's been a slow process to get where we are with concussions these days in the NHL, but we are seeing some progress.
The fact that the head shot rule seems to be changing every season and that the league introduced the "quiet room" for players who just had their bell rung shows that, at the very least, there's a heightened awareness of the issue.
It's even become more acceptable within the culture of the game to say, "Hey remember when I got run over by that guy a few nights back? I think it's connected to the reason I puke when I exercise now, I may sit out a few games."
It seems we're taking concussions seriously at last.
But it's been a long road to get here.
Even just a handful of years back it seems like we were in the dark ages about players who needed to sit in dark rooms.
I know hindsight is 20/20 and all, but how insane is it to think that prior to the last season, you were 100-percent free to absolutely de-rail someone who wasn't looking by smashing their temple with your shoulder?
Were there actually people on the other side of the debate going, "Boy, I just don't know if we can take that valuable form of defense out of the game?"
And this is how it goes with issues like this — the second we actually change the rules, we realize how ridiculous it is that it was ever any different. The new head shot wording has already been changed to remove the wording "blind-side and lateral," (making any head shot illegal) while allowing refs some leeway to decide if the player put himself in that position or not.
Once again, we'll find it odd it wasn't always this way when we look back. My kids will watch old highlights and say "soooooo … driving your shoulder into an opponent's mind was allowed?"
And I'll get to say "not just allowed — encouraged!"
It will blow their minds.
When you spend time with someone struggling through a serious concussion (redundant), I think you become a little more sympathetic to how badly we needed to get here.
I think back to one teammate in particular who could've used us to move a few years quicker on this.
This teammate was on the wrong end of what the NHL would clip on video to show players "this is exactly what you can no longer do." He never saw the guy coming.
His helmet popped off before he made it all the way down, and his head hit the ice. It was awhile before we saw him around the rink again.
At first, his visits to the dressing room were just to check in with the trainer and get progress reports. He was clearly not himself.
He'd sit in his stall with his hood up and stare at the floor in a prolonged zone that was uncomfortable to be around. It's helpless watching someone who's in that state — there's just nothing you can do for them.
Setback after setback, he kept trying to start workouts but couldn't. This went on for months.
You watch a friend dealing with that and grow increasingly mad at the guy who hit him. But, at the time, it was legal. You know it was cheap, but we were letting guys get away with that at the time.
He did get back on the ice that year, but he was a guy who had to occasionally scrap to make his living. How scary must that have been, knowing that with every shift, you could be sent back to the dark?
And his situation was not a rare one — you could grab just about any guy in the NHL and they'd be able to tell a similar story about a guy they played with — so how did we slough off the severity of concussions for so long?
It's tough to comprehend, but now that we're here, it will seem crazy to go back. I'm proud of the steps the NHL is taking.
"Any hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is no longer permitted."
Finally, we're moving in the direction of reason.