Many people in the hockey community feel that the amount of concussions suffered by NHL players is a serious issue – and it is. It is no secret that the number of reported concussions in the NHL has been on the rise over the last number of years compared to the past. This can be attributed to a number of things. First, the knowledge of concussions and the symptoms have increased to properly diagnose when they occur. There has also been an increased level of awareness of how serious head injuries are and more information is available about the long term affects they can cause. This has lead to teams making sure their players are checked out after potential concussions instead of assuming the player is fine and he better “suck it up” and get back out there because he only “had his bell rung.” We are a long way from the days when complaining of a head injury may cost a player his career because the team may feel he is not tough enough.
The rise of reported concussions is grossly misrepresented by the hockey media and creates a mass hysteria that the game is broken and needs to be fixed. A rise in reported concussions does not necessarily mean a rise in concussions. The media tends to blend the two terms together as if they are synonymous and fans come away from their reports with the words “more” and “concussions” as their concern. If there is more knowledge to better diagnose when head injuries occur, and the environment has evolved to the point where it is accepted to come forward with them, one would only assume there would be a significant increase in reported concussions even if the actual amount is the same. It is completely ridiculous to suggest for certain that there are more concussions today in the NHL than ever before. Especially when you hear ex-players talking about playing through head injuries and not letting the team know they didn’t feel right.
Hockey is a very dangerous sport and players will get hurt. They always have, they always will. There is no question that the game is faster and the players today are bigger and stronger than ever before, but there is simply no evidence that there are more concussions today because of those reasons. Every expert thinks they have a solution to reduce concussions in the game. These can range from larger ice surfaces to bringing back clutch and grab hockey to slow the game down. The point gets lost on many that come up with these so-called solutions because they are still assuming that there are more concussions today than ever before. Show us the data that proves the game is broken before telling us how to fix it.
The hockey media also uses terms like “head shots” and claim that these hits, along with fighting, must be eliminated from the game to reduce the (assumed) increased number of concussions that is plaguing all that is wrong in the NHL. This is nothing but misconstrued propaganda that hinders the growth of the game at a time when it needs to grow in certain markets in the United States. News outlets that would otherwise not even mention hockey become focused on how violent and dangerous the sport can be when these head shots are all that is talked about in the hockey world.
Last season, the NHL released results from a two year statistical study on the cause of concussions. Contrary to popular belief, a mere 17% of all diagnosed concussions were the result of illegal hits and only eight percent resulted from fighting - hardly the pandemic the media claims as the major causes of concussions in the NHL. According to the study, the other 70% of concussions came from simply playing the game with 44% from legal hits and 26% from accidental collisions. The causes of the remaining five percent were undetermined.
This study tells us that head shots and fighting cause concussions, although a study did not need to tell us that. More importantly, it tells us that hockey is dangerous…very dangerous. We all knew that too, but this opens our eyes and clears the misconceptions about what the media claims are the real problems in the game. The media and its campaign to reduce concussions by eliminating what they view as the biggest causes are only targeting 25% of the problem.
All the bleeding hearts out there that preach for player safety have their facts wrong and it is not hard to figure out why. “Fighting and Illegal Hits in Hockey are NOT the Main Causes of Concussions in the NHL” is not a good headline. It doesn’t sell. “NHL Faces Concussion Epidemic” does. Do any stories show data to support the claims that fighting and head shots cause the majority of concussions? Nope. It is just opinion. Meanwhile, actual data shows that the game itself is too dangerous to play at all, if we are indeed so concerned about the health and long term well being of the players. The most dangerous sport in the NCAA for concussions is women’s hockey - which doesn’t allow bodychecking or fighting. Believe it or not, it is more likely to suffer a concussion in the NCAA by playing women’s hockey than playing men’s hockey or football.
There is actually a very simple solution: If you want to eliminate concussions in hockey, eliminate hockey.
A common thought about the NHL and its concern for player safety is one that questions how a league can allow fighting but at the same time want to reduce concussions – seemingly an ultimate contradiction. But an even bigger paradox is stated by those that want to reduce concussions by eliminating head shots and/or fighting but say there is nothing wrong with a good clean bodycheck. Clearly, the facts suggest otherwise.
With the new rules in place to punish offenders with stiffer supplementary discipline for delivering targeted head shots, the focus of these hits shifts to whether or not the hit was legal, instead of whether an injury took place. If the hit is legal, there’s little mention of the concussed player and the concussion problems in the game. However, the opposite reaction comes from the media if there happens to be a concussed player resulting from an illegal hit. It becomes front page news.
The real issue the media has is not with players getting concussions. The issue is how they occur.
The game is not broken. We just have to collectively decide whether or not hockey is too dangerous to play, considering all we know about concussions. If player safety is paramount, an argument can be made that the game should not be played at all. However, if a concussion results from a legal open ice hit and the injury is not the focus because it was a great hit, then player safety really isn’t our primary concern.