28 October 2008

Head Shots

As many know, I'm a huge hockey fan. I love the game, I love my team, I greatly admire my team's players. There are, however, aspects of the game that I don't particularly like, particularly the increase in the frequency of hits to players' heads. I gasped in horror a couple weeks ago when I saw Andrei Kostitsyn get his head smashed into the glass and then, already unconscious and unable to protect himself, bounce off the ice. He didn't move for a good few minutes, and when he did he looked like death warmed over. Then, last weekend, we saw young Brandon Sutter, all of 19 years old, get his head blasted by Doug Weight.
Today, Habs coach Guy Carbonneau has spoken out about hits to the head and the need to eliminate it from the game. I wholeheartedly agree. It's always interesting to see the short-sighted mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers come out whenever this topic comes up. Inevitably they rely on the same tired cliches of feminizing players and all of that tripe. They want their violence and their blood and their guts, the consequences be damned.
The reality is that these are real people, I think that some folks tend to forget that, going out and playing a sport. Yes it's one that is renowned for its physical and mental toughness, but never, ever forget the human element involved. These aren't meaningless automatons being tossed out on the ice that are easily replacable once the current versions are too badly damaged to continue playing. Ask Eric Lindros--a player for whom I have incredibly little respect for his off-ice shenanigans--or his brother Brett the hell they've endured when suffering through their concussions. A lot of these guys have had their careers ended because of blows to the head and the dreaded post-concussion syndrome that lingers on long after the player has seemingly recovered and been able to resume a normal life.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying watching Mike Komisarek lay a wallop on somebody with one of his often-delivered bone-crunching hits. But watch him play. He's six-foot-four and has never once in his career put somebody out with a concussion as a result of a head shot. There's not a sane person alive who would question Komisarek's toughness. But there is a line. When you see a young person; in Sutter's case, barely a man at all at age 19, get knocked absolutely stupid and rendered unconscious, something isn't right about that.
The NHL has to do more to protect its most valued assets. It talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk. One of these days we're going to hear that an NHL player has died as a result of a blow to the head. He may not die right on the ice but the trauma may be too much. And the knuckle-draggers will yell loudly that it's just "part of the game."

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