Slow Motion Killing

Tom Benjamin’s – Slow Motion Killing:

Bob McKeown was on McCown yesterday promoting tonight’s episode of the EOWN Fifth Estate. He had news that Gary Bettman and Paul Kelly would be well advised to consider:

Recent research by neuroscientists now shows the link between on-the-field concussions and brain damage; a permanent injury that can lead to depression, suicide and severe aberrant behaviour. The damage is so profound, the researchers say, that post-mortem examinations of the brain tissue of five former professional football players can be compared only to the tissue found in the brain tissue of advanced Alzheimers cases.

Apparently professional football players have a life expectancy that is 20 years shorter than the average man. I’d like to know whether we’d see the the same kind of shocking result if someone ran the actuarial tables for hockey players.

Would the league eliminate head shots if someone was killed by one in a game? For sure. Does it really matter if the death is delayed by a few years? Should it? What kind of risks can we expect players to take to entertain us?

Its past time to take action.

Tom’s is dead right here on the need for action. Of course, the league IS taking action; note the memo circulated that intentional blows to the head aren’t going to be tolerated. A number of bloggers and media have pooh-poohed that, but ignore the underlying realities here: if you’re changing the standards of suspension, you have to formally notify the players and the player’s union so they can challenge and force negotiation if they want. Under a CBA environment, things like this are complicated by the legal logistics.

I know some want all blows outlaws; I could live with that, no argument. At the same time, I tend to think this is a good compromise point between taking too much physicality out of the game and tolerating the brutality. We’ll see what happens when the players don’t take the hint (they won’t) and the suspensions start ramping up, but I’m encouraged. I think a lot here needs to be done within equipment modification on elbow pads and shoulder pads, and the league is working with the players on that, too — hard caps and plastics on elbow pads need to go, folks.

As to life expectancy issues; just think about the number of old timers running around hockey games, the all-star game, heroes games, etc. Lots of them. Now, football? how many hang around? Not so. Football is a massively physical game, in a very different way than Hockey’s physicality. Hockey players have a lot more to worry about orthopedic issues (check out the number of artificial hips and knees at any heroes game); football has that TOO, but hockey’s a lot less brutal on a body over time. I’d expect hockey player’s life expectancies to much closer track “real” people. The Player’s association would actually have the data to figure this out from pension and membership info if they wanted.

Would the league eliminate head shots if someone was killed by one in a game? For sure. Does it really matter if the death is delayed by a few years? Should it? What kind of risks can we expect players to take to entertain us?

Yes, it really does matter if the death is delayed by a few years, if only because it becomes very difficult to pin the death on a single factor — and that’s a huge issue here. I mean, seriously; the data on smoking and lung cancer is pretty damn damning, and look how long it’s taken to get this far on solving that. Concussions vs. life expectancy is a lot less cut and dried, and even the football data is taking a few things and stringing them together; I happen to think they’re right — I don’t think the point is proven scientifically by any means.

As to Tom’s final point? He’s got it wrong. It’s what risk the players are willing to take to play the game. Our decision as fans is whether the game is too dangerous or risky for us to appreciate and enjoy it. If you think a game is too dangerous, you need to stop being a fan of it, because ultimately, the league will listen to people voting with their pocketbooks.

Down this road lies the slippery path of becoming TOO risk averse, folks. You can’t play a physical game without physicality. And that’s why I like the path the NHL is taking. They’re not over-reacting, and looking for that middle path that minimizes the risks without screwing up the game. And of course, in some corners they’re getting ripped for not being “serious” about fixing the problem, and in others, getting ripped for screwing up the game by even considering changing anything. Which mostly reminds us how easy it is to criticize, and how tough it is to actually do something useful…

My bottom line: the league needs to get more serious about kicking the butt of players that attempt to injure other players, and that includes hitting the head intentionally. But to take that the next step and presume you have to take hitting out of the game — I gotta problem with that. Now, if you remove the intentional hits to the head from the game and too many players are still being injured, then look at what else to do, but I don’t think that’s going to be necessary. And you can’t take the physical play out of hockey and still have hockey.