Often referred to as the "invisible injury," concussions remain mostly a mystery, even to the doctors who spend their lives studying them. But the human lab that is the NHL has made this much clear – the human brain can only absorb so much pounding.
Simply put, if you love hockey and you're honest about the game and the toll it takes on the men who play it, you ought to be reading this story.
Starkman even provides transcripts of a lot of his interviews (including Eric Lindros, Stu Grimson, etc.) and there's a lengthy list of players whose careers were ended due to blows to the head.
While I wouldn't call concussions hockey's dirty secret, it is fair to say we don't often hear of the true, human impact on players — especially those who retire and fade from view. Lindros's description of his battle with them makes it sound like a nightmare, something you wouldn't wish on anyone.
It's an important package for several reasons, but the main one in my view is that too often these injuries are still being misrepresented, played down or ignored entirely:
"A friend of mine who was a team doctor on one of the other NHL teams said, `Well, we don't have any concussions,'" said Dr. Jamie Kissick, former Ottawa Senators team physician. "He said this facetiously because the coach didn't believe in them, so there were no concussions."
"I think some you might find aren't legitimate. ... I think there's a small percentage, not a great percentage, of players who use it as an excuse, `Oh yeah, I've got a concussion.' They can milk it. It's a hard thing to really say that you haven't, you know, if you're trying to get some extra insurance money out of it to get paid an extra year or something."You know, it was interesting during the Hockey Hall of Fame induction press conference last month in Toronto, listening to luminaries like Mark Messier and Scott Stevens talk about what was then the issue of the day (head hits) and offer an explanation of the fine line between what constitutes legal and illegal hits in hockey. Both spoke of a need to keep the power element — the "danger," I believe Messier called it — in the game, to keep it fierce and, well, hard-hitting.— Colin Campbell, NHL executive vice-president
Eliminating head hits, they said, would water down that integral part of hockey, and make hitting, in many cases, something punishable instead of laudable.
It's a difficult issue, really, because on one hand, you'd like to protect players from these types of injuries, but on the other, "danger" is definitely part of what these men are paid to work with. There are plenty of hazardous occupations out there that you rarely hear about, jobs where deaths can occur on a regular basis, and it's worth acknowledging that — at least in the minds of most of those playing in and running the NHL — concussions are simply one of the on-the-job hazards in professional hockey.
Can you have a sport where 700 grown men pound each other for 1,300+ games every year and not have casualties?
UPDATE Part 2 of the series is right here.