NFL may get the attention, but the NHL has a concussion problem too

By: Andrew Utz ~Staff Writer~

Sports Illustrated released an article on Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger in 2013 entitled “Chris Pronger has a Headache.” The article detailed how Pronger was recovering from an eye injury sustained in the previous season as well as having symptoms of post-concussion injury. However, the famed defensemen was nominated for the 2015 Hall of Fame Class, despite not announcing his official retirement.

Across hockey, the frequency of concussions has increased. Stars like Sydney Crosby and Jonathan Toews have been sidelined from play multiple times because of them. Retired players have been coming forward with memory loss, cognitive difficulties and even illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimers.

These are not related to the NHL alone. This year, the NFL agreed to compensate retired players up to $5 million for brainrelated injuries sustained during their careers. Currently the NHL Player’s Association is in a lawsuit against the NHL over concussions and their long-term effects. They are looking for compensation and better awareness in the league’s examination protocol.

In the currently approved protocol, players undergo a baseline test at the beginning of the season using the evaluation software ImPACT, which Xavier’s Club Sports also use. The NHL has been working toward solutions in response to the rise in concussions, including penalizing players for blind-side hits. But the injuries still may occur.

If a concussion is suspected, the player is evaluated on the team bench or in the locker room. There is no specific evaluation method universally used in the league, a focus of the NHLPA’s litigation. The recommended method by the league is a modified balance test that has not been researched with players on skates. There is no specified waiting period. Instead, the players are to refer to their team doctors, who perform evaluations to clear or bench the player.

In the NHLPA’s lawsuit against the league, the plaintiffs claim the lack of defined league rules on concussions are detrimental to current player health. The ruling judge on the case has called for the league and 23 U.S.-based clubs to bring in documents based on these claims. In addition, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and other ranking officials have been disposed to the court. Bettman has voiced his concern over the connection of concussions and later brain injuries and illnesses, stating, “I know there are a lot of theories, but if you ask people who study it, they tell you there is no statistical correlation that can definitively make that conclusion.”

While the professional players watch the case develop, we as fans and athletes should watch, too. Younger leagues may not have the resources of the NHL or NFL to properly test for concussions or other brain injuries, putting others at risk. Athletes have to be taught how to hit or tackle properly, or even run correctly, in order to avoid injury. “Kids now go a hundred miles an hour, but they have their heads down and expect the referees to protect them,” Pronger said in his SI interview. “If a guy’s coming at you and his head is in front of his body, where are you going to hit him?”