The National Hockey League is facing multiple lawsuits at the moment citing its lack of attention to and prevention of concussions through the decades. None of them bring the National Hockey League Players Association under the same microscope, perhaps out of fear of litigious cannibalism.
But the players’ role in the concussion protocol’s challenges and failures is something that, frankly, can’t be ignored.
Take James Wisniewski of the Columbus Blue Jackets as the latest example.
In Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, with his team facing elimination, the Wiz was knocked into the boards violently by Tanner Glass, resulting in a Blue Jackets power play. Wisniewski had to be assisted to his skates before leaving for the back. He would return in the second period.
“My head didn’t feel great in Game 6. I said my back hurt so I didn’t have to do the 20-minute (concussion) protocol and go through that whole concussion process. I didn’t feel like going in and talking to the doctors for 20 minutes. A lot of guys were playing through things. Guys with fractured feet (rookie Ryan Murray), separated shoulders (R.J. Umberger) … (Nick) Foligno came back in 2 ½ weeks from a (knee) sprain, which is usually four to six weeks. That’s playoff hockey. It’s survival of the fittest.”
No doubt that’s true, but the NHL hasn’t taken steps (and taken criticism) for separated shoulder protocols during the game.
As hockey fans, I think we’ve all reconsidered the alleged valor of playing through an injury. Yes, Gregory Campbell’s legend will be compared to D-Day and Rich Peverley exemplified hockey’s fighting spirit when he wanted to return to a game after a cardiac incident on the bench. But we don’t want to see players rush back from concussions. Not from what we know about them in 2014. It’s not about the next game; it’s about the damage that could be done years after they retire.
In Wisniewski’s case, this is a player that suffered a significant brain injury in 2013 outright lying to medical professionals about another one because he didn’t “talking to doctors for 20 minutes.” Which of course is code for “wanted to be on the ice” and knowing that the doctors could have prevented it.
There are James Wisniewskis on every team, in every series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I will never lack respect for the will to win or the idea that everyone sacrifices their health in the most important games of the season; nor will I fail to acknowledge that, essentially, a player is responsible for his own health and the risks he faces while making millions of dollars following his life’s passion.
But when the NHL is being sued by ex-players claiming that the League continues to fail to “institute policies and protocols that could have and will protect its players from suffering or exacerbating head trauma sustained during practice or in games,” it’s important to remember that the success of those policies is a two-way street.
What good is it if the NHL provides doctors and the players flat-out lie to them?
s/t Ryan Real for the tip.