08 March 2012

Cleared for Contact

News that should make the Eastern Division of the NHL collectively shudder- Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact and could make his reappearance within a number of days. I for one would never have blamed the kid if he hung up the skates for good. As a multi-millionaire in his twenties, with lucrative endorsement deals and a great future in coaching, broadcasting or sitting on his deck drinking beer, why take any chances of sustaining career ending head injuries ? Or worse, lingering injuries that could prevent him from enjoying all of that cash in his later years ?

As more research comes forward on the lingering effects of head injuries on everyone from pros to kids playing hockey, Crosby has become a spokesman who could effectively end the charade that players should just suck it up and play regardless of their condition.

I love the old guy argument as so often preached by the likes of Don Cherry- the ones who say modern players are sissies for wearing visors, or sitting out because they have their bells rung. They seem to miss the same facts that apply to modern football players compared to their elders- namely that they are bigger, faster and in far better physical shape than their predecessors.

In a game of speed like hockey it is simple physics that a superbly conditioned defenseman at 6 foot 5 inches, 220 pounds is going to hit with far more force than his 5 foot 11 185 pound predecessor from the 1960's that worked side jobs during the off season to make ends meet. Add in changes in equipment (which is lighter and may offer far more protection to the shoulder when hitting an opponent) and you have a recipe for more head injuries, more time missed during the season and earlier retirements.

Hockey, like any sport, is entertainment. Like any entertainment, it depends on star power to draw the fans who pay for the tickets who pay the salaries. I may not like Ovechkin, for example, but I love watching him play and I can't see him play if he's sitting in the owner's box. It's time for the NHL to clean up the game in regards to head shots, institute massive fines for deliberate contact and move on to better things.

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