Thursday, November 17, 2011

Leagues and concussions

The headline on the Jeff Z. Klein-written piece in The New York Times a week ago reads: In N.H.L., Disclosure of Concussions is Lagging.
Klein writes: “The N.H.L. has earned praise this season for taking measures to reduce concussions, including introducing stronger rules against boarding and checks to the head, and strictly enforcing those rules through fines and suspensions. But questions persist about a league policy that allows teams to be vague about disclosure of injuries, and a recent incident suggested that in-game concussion protocols might be inconsistently applied.”
Klein goes on to write about, among other things, the way the New York Rangers have dealt with updates on the condition of D Marc Staal, who has yet to play this season, and the way in which the Toronto Maple Leafs handled the apparent concussion suffered by G James Reimer, who “has not played since Oct. 22, when he sustained an injury that the Maple Leafs have characterized variously as whiplash, concussion-like symptoms and an upper-body injury.”
The Reimer situation is particularly interesting because it turned into a story with some legs. With the Maple Leafs refusing to clarify the situation, Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star called Reimer’s mother and wrote a piece on the injured goaltender from that angle.
As Marlene Reimer told Feschuk: “That’s the frustrating part for us — not knowing what it is, and why they’re not calling it a concussion when they say ‘concussion-like symptoms.’ ”
The Leafs, of course, weren’t at all pleased with Feschuk’s piece. As Damien Cox of the Toronto Star points out right here, the Leafs are upset because, like so many organizations these days, they want to control the message 24/7 and would rather provide transparency only on their terms.
Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s vice-president of player safety, said earlier this week that concussions in the league are down 50 to 60 per cent.
But with the NHL refusing to divulge figures and to be transparent about injuries, can he be believed?
A story written by Steve Keating of Reuters on Tuesday quotes Shanahan as saying: "They are less than half from the same time last year, so it's a significant improvement. We would love get rid of them all, but we know we're not going to do that."
Keating also pointed out: “The NHL did not provide figures but the high number of (suspensions) handed out by Shanahan appear to have gotten the message across that dangerous hits will no longer be tolerated.”
Well, if the NHL doesn’t supply figures, and knowing how the messenger often shapes the messages in this day and age, why should it be believed?
The WHL also refuses to divulge specifics on injuries. In fact, in the injury list that was released this week there are 35 players shown as being out with upper body injuries, while 16 others have lower body injuries.
Which means there could be more than 30 players out with concussions at this point. However, we don’t know that because no one is talking.
For example, the Spokane Chiefs list F Dominik Uher as being out day-to-day with an upper body injury. I’m told he has a concussion, that he will undergo baseline testing on Friday and that he is expected to be out at least two weeks.
The WHL injury list doesn’t include F Colton Stephenson of the Edmonton Oil Kings, who retired earlier this season because of post-concussion syndrome; F Max Adolph of the Kelowna Rockets, who is at home in Saskatoon recovering from multiple concussions; and, F Brayden Cuthbert of the Moose Jaw Warriors, who is at home in Brandon and hoping to come back from concussion woes.
At the end of this season, the WHL is going to tell us how much concussions are down from last season, when players suffered more than 100 such injuries.
But, really, how will we know?
(It will be interesting to see what information is released on the injury suffered Wednesday night by G Tyler Bunz of the Medicine Hat Tigers. He was on the WHL bench during the Subway Series game in Regina against the Russians when he was struck in the head by an errant clearing pass. He was taken to hospital as a precaution and has been told he won't play tonight in the series finale in Moose Jaw. Concussion? He did miss some time in last season's playoffs with a concussion, too.)
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