Monday, December 12, 2011

The Loss of Sid the Kid – a blow to the National Hockey League

The Hockey God’s giveth and the Hockey God’s taketh away – such is the tale of Sidney Crosby. Hockey’s prodigal son and the game’s best player returned from a ten and a half month injury timeout Monday, November 21. Crosby scored two goals and had two assists in the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-0 whitewashing of the New York Islanders that fateful night.

On Thursday the Penguins announced Crosby would miss two games over the weekend against the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Islanders. Friday, the Penguins said Crosby could practice but he wouldn’t join the team on their road trip. The same day the Penguins made it clear Crosby wasn’t suffering from any post-concussion symptoms. Monday, that all changed with news that Crosby is going to miss more games, he is suffering from concussion like symptoms and there is no timetable for his return.

"I don't think 'frustrating' even describes it," said Crosby, who has 12 points in eight games since he returned from a concussion that knocked him out of the lineup for 61 games and nearly 11 months.

"It's much different than previously going through that stuff," Crosby said. "I'm way better off than I was dealing with this stuff 10 months ago or whatever it was.

"I just figured it was better to be cautious here and not take any chances. That's kind of where I'm at right now," Crosby said. "I'm not (feeling) bad. And I'm not happy about watching. But I've got to make sure with these sort of things that I'm careful."

What Tim Tebow is to the National Football League, Sidney Crosby can be that and a great deal more to the National Hockey League. Sidney Crosby is every hockey parent’s dream come true. Born and raised in a small Nova Scotia town, his smile lights up any room he walks in.

Even better than Tim Tebow, Sidney Crosby is to the National Hockey League what Peyton Manning represents to the National Football League. An athlete who loves the camera and a camera who loves the athlete. There have been many great athletes whose playing careers never resulted in success in endorsing products. They were athletes whose image didn’t translate well through television commercials. Sidney Crosby and Peyton Manning love the camera and the camera loves them.

"Either you're kind of symptomatic or you're not; I don't know the medical terms," Crosby said. "With this kind of stuff there's so many different things you could call it; it's not always clear-cut. It's not like a break or anything. I'm treating it as being symptomatic, as I've looked at those symptoms before and (have been) treated for those symptoms before. And it's the same way I'm going to treat them now."

There is a long list of National Hockey League players who have had their careers impacted, ended, cut shot by concussions. Hall of Famer member Pat Lafontaine suffered six concussions in his 15 year career, the last in 1998 in 1998 when he collided rather innocently with teammate Mike Keane. Eric Lindros was dubbed the next one early in his career. Eight concussions later (he suffered four concussions during the 1999-2000 season alone) Lindros isn’t headed for the Hall of Fame, unless he buys a ticket. His brother Brett was forced to retire when he turned 20.

Scott Stevens and Keith Primeau had reputations for their toughness and determination. Both former team captains had their careers ended by concussions. Goaltender Mike Richter a key member of the New York Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup champions suffered two concussions within an eight month span and retired in September 2003.

An April study released by the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggested NHL players lost an average of 10 days of playing time in a third of concussion cases from 1997 to 2004.

"Our results suggest that there was a trend toward a gradual increase in post-concussion time loss over the study period," said lead author Dr. Brian Benson, a researcher and physician at the Sport Medicine Centre in the University of Calgary's faculty of kinesiology.

"One trend we saw was that while the number of concussions levelled out over the study period, the amount of time loss appeared to gradually increase over the years, which may be an indication of either greater severity or greater caution in treatment," he added in a release.

There are those who believe it’s time for hockey’s so called “culture” to change. If that is ever going to take place the National Hockey League will have to take a serious look at the Lords of the Rink, the games leaders.

Last week the New York Times published an expose concerning the death of former New York Rangers tough guy Derek Boogaard. Boogaard died in May of an accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone. After Boogaard died, two more NHL enforcers — Winnipeg center Rick Rypien and the recently retired Wade Belak — also died suddenly. It was the darkest summer in hockey history. Boogaard, Rypien and Belak all suffered from serious head trauma throughout their NHL careers.

Sidney Crosby isn’t a tough hockey player along the lines of the roles Boogaard, Rypien and Belak served with their teams, but the three players like Crosby all had to deal with the tough nature of hockey.

“Our fans tell us they like the level of physicality in our game,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced to the media when asked about the New York Times Boogarrd investigative journalist piece last week.

While not quite the same, if Gary Bettman is championing the “physicality in our game” Sidney Crosby’s post-concussion symptoms that is now starting to look like a major issue is a direct result of the “physicality in our game”.

Bettman was correct in pointing out the NHL created the Concussion Working Group, a program established with players’ association in 1997, adding: “Since 1997, we’ve been doing lots and lots and we’ll continue to do lots and lots. But there are no easy answers yet, and people use tragedies to jump to conclusions.”

Sidney Crosby is in a unique position to begin to change the hockey culture and send a message to youngsters playing minor league hockey. If you’re hurt playing hockey, if you have a headache you can’t explain do what’s right and don’t play until you’re healthy again.

“Now, I think our children hopefully will change,” Dr. Mark Aubry, the chief medical officer for Hockey Canada told The Ottawa Citizen. “If you see somebody with their head down, hopefully, out of respect, you actually hold up.”

“Yes, the culture of the game has to change,” said Todd Jackson, a senior manager at Hockey Canada. “Are we done? Absolutely not. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Sidney Crosby the face of hockey is 24-years old. He scored the gold medal goal for Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics. He has already won the NHL’s MVP award. What’s most important – Sidney Crosby has the rest of his life to live, and he has every right to enjoy every moment of his life. In July 2007 Sid the Kid signed a contract extension worth $43.5 million. The money is Crosby’s even if he never plays another NHL game.

As great an example as Sidney Crosby is imagine if you don’t have tens of millions of dollars and you’re a professional hockey player. Imagine if you’re playing professional hockey in the minor leagues. Imagine if you’re a third or fourth line National Hockey League player. The window for a professional athlete is very short, the chance to earn millions is as fleeting for all too many professional hockey players as fleeting as a rainbow.

The Lords of the Rink have tried to put safeguards in place to ensure when a hockey player suffers a concussion they receive all the assistance they need to recover properly. If you’re that hockey player struggling to make it, doing whatever you have to do to play in the National Hockey League would you follow the same example as Sidney Crosby did? Or would you try and play through that injury attempt to mask your injury so you might be able to earn a living playing hockey. Hockey needs Sidney Crosby more than ever, to set the example and lead.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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