Monday, May 2, 2011

What if Sid the Kid can't play anymore?

The NHL playoffs are well into Round 2 and, really, the story of the little green men isn’t the biggest story.
No. The biggest story of these playoffs, perhaps of any playoff, occurred Friday. It just didn’t get the attention that a major story deserves. After all, there were games to be played that night and on the weekend.
It was on Friday when Sidney Crosby, who had been working to get back in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup since suffering a concussion in early January, revealed that he had suffered a setback the previous week. It forced him, he said, to take a step back.
On the blog of Globe and Mail hockey writer James Mirtle, Crosby is quoted as having said:
“It’s more frustrating. My expectation probably wasn’t that I’d play (during these playoffs), but I was just trying to make sure that if there was any chance that it was possible to come back that I was ready and that I’d done everything I could to be ready. It’s frustrating, disappointing. But I can’t really control any of that.
“All I can control is what I was doing off the ice in trying to rehab and all that stuff. Unfortunately it didn’t work out.”
And just like that — “Unfortunately it didn’t work out” — the greatest player in today’s hockey world stepped back into the shadows. His Penguins have been eliminated from the playoffs so the glare of the spotlight won’t find him perhaps until late August.
By now you’ve seen the hits Crosby’s noggin absorbed. First, on Jan. 1, he took a blindside hit from Dave Steckel of the Washington Capitals. Then, four days later, defenceman Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning hit Crosby, whose head appeared to strike the glass.
Neither one of the hits was particularly vicious. In fact, the Penguins say he felt fine after the first check and that it wasn’t until after the second one that Crosby began to feel that something wasn’t right. Crosby hasn’t played since the Hedman hit, but it isn’t known if either of the hits caused a concussion, or if it was a combination. And such is the mystery of brain injuries — every brain is different and, as such, there always are a lot of unanswered questions in terms of cause, effect and healing time.
When he left the game, Crosby had 66 points, including 32 goals, in 41 games. Without the injury, you can forget the Hart Trophy discussion because it belonged to him.
He started out day-to-day. Now, however, he hasn’t played in four months. And, really, who is to say his career won’t feel a long-term impact?
In fact, what if Sid the Kid doesn’t play again?
If Crosby doesn’t feel well enough to start next season, and that is five months away, might that be the impetus to put concussion awareness over the top?
Because it has become as evident as the nose on your face that the time has come for action, particularly in leagues and organizations that deal with young people. That action has to deal with preventing concussions, as opposed to treating them. The medical evidence is mounting that one concussion is one too many.
If you missed it, researchers said Monday that the brain of former NFL player Dave Duerson showed damage. The evidence was “indisputable,“ said  Dr. Ann McKee, an expert in the field of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
Duerson, a former NFL defensive back, committed suicide on Feb. 17. After preparing a note asking that his brain go to the NFL “brain bank,” he shot himself in the chest. Duerson, who retired in 1993, was just 50 years of age.
“Dave Duerson had classic pathology of CTE and no evidence of any other disease,” McKee said, “and he has severe involvement of all the (brain) structures that affect things like judgment, inhibition, impulse control, mood and memory.”
In the U.S., most of the focus on concussions is falling on football, and rightfully so.
In an op-ed piece in USA TODAY last week, Katherine Chretien, an associate professor of medicine at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., wrote that “football will always be engrained in the fabric of our country, but can we make it a sport that limits long-term brain damage of its players? The brains of our children and the future love of the game are depending on it.”
Earlier, she had pointed out that CTE “might not be limited to professional level play. It probably starts much earlier. The question is when? At what age?”
And those are the $64,000 questions when it comes to young people and sports. Research has shown that while repetitive collisions in practices and during games may not result in concussions there still may be damage done. In many instances, rest will help the brain heal; what isn’t known is at what point the damage becomes permanent.
Today, the only way to test for CTE is for researchers to examine a brain, meaning someone has to have died. The key, then, is to work to prevent concussions.
The CFL will hold a news conference today and the topic of conversation is expected to be concussion awareness. You just know that this subject is on the mind of every football player in North America.
Yesterday, on TSN radio, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to a tweet from TSN’s Darren Dreger, acknowledged “concern over head hits and concussion issues in the NHL. Says the sport in general needs to do more.”
He is correct. But while it is important that hockey at all levels do more in terms of concussion treatment, it is imperative that it also work to prevent concussions.
After all, the concussion that doesn’t happen doesn’t need treatment, nor does it result in today’s athlete slurring his or her words later in life.

(Gregg Drinnan is sports editor of The Daily News. He is at, and

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