Chris Pronger has become this year’s Sidney Crosby, and unfortunately that doesn’t have anything to do with his scoring prowess or performance on the ice. No, Pronger has become this year’s highest profile player to have a season cut incredibly short by post-concussion syndrome, the thorn in the side of the NHL. He’s not alone in his suffering; teammate Claude Giroux is sidelined for head trauma as well, and Crosby has found his way back into the realm of the indefinite hiatus after a hit during their loss to the Bruins last week.
While injuries have been a constant presence in the NHL since day one (this is, after all, a contact sport), past years have seen a huge increase in season-ending concussions. What’s the deal? Are player hits getting out of control? Has the sport taken a turn for the more violent?
Anyone curious should really take the time to read the NY Times piece on enforcer Derek Boogaard’s tragic death at 28 from a drug and alcohol overdose. It’s a well-written and eye-opening piece, shedding light on the dark reality of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a close relative of Alzheimer’s that develops through repeated blows to the head. Boogard is the fourth NHL player confirmed with the disease (which can only be diagnosed post-mortem), though by far the youngest. However, his story has raised concerns of other young players developing CTE.
I can’t say I agree with everything in the article; the writer seems to place the blame more on the fisticuffs of the sport than the wall shattering checks that produce the most concussions, and I get the sense they’re seeking to vilify the NHL a bit undeservedly. But those qualms aside, it’s a heartbreaking tale of the very real consequences that can come of our favorite sport if we don’t treat concussions like the serious issues they are. The way forward isn’t easy: at the end of the day, hockey is a rough and tumble sport and hits are a very real part of the game. Even the most strict enforcement can’t stop clean hits that result in someone getting hurt. But I think we can all agree measures need to be taken to avoid stories like Boogaard’s.
For those who think Brendan Shanahan is the villain of the NHL, or that Pronger and Crosby are wimps for not getting right back on the ice, I really encourage you to give the article a read. It might just leave you with a little more appreciation for the safety measures the league and team doctors are trying to follow, to keep the players of the sport we love safe both on and off the ice.