What About Hockey? Addressing Concussions in the NHL

It’s not news that concussions and head injuries have been a huge topic recently in the sports world (and on this blog). Mostly, the main concern is in the NFL with the risk of CTE and other problems that occur after years of head trauma. It has been the subject of a myriad news reports, documentaries and even a massive lawsuit. Anyone who has ever seen a hockey game knows there is a serious risk of traumatic head injury — just as much if not more so than football. So why don’t we ever hear about it?

If you think it’s because concussions aren’t happening in hockey, just take a look at this video.

YEAH. And perhaps a bigger testament to the risk for concussions in hockey is Chris Pronger, who retired due primarily to the number of concussions he received. The truth is it’s not a major talking point because there is not as much controversy. The NHL has handled it’s concussion crises much differently than the NFL — some would say better. 

Like the NFL, the NHL has started fining and suspending players for deliberate hits to the head and other infractions they find deserving of a penalty. However, instead of the commissioner doling out the suspensions and fines like Roger Goodell does in the NFL, the NHL appointed someone else to give out the penalties. This someone is Brendan Shanahan, former NHL player and Hall of Famer. He was appointed Director of Player Safety in December of 2009 and he has been handing out “shanabans” ever since then. While there are still complaints, it helps the players’ reactions to penalties because the person who is handing out the suspensions is someone who has experienced what they did and will know the appropriate penalty for what they committed. When the commissioner hands out the fines, like in the NFL, he becomes more of a villain, especially if he has never played the game.

Despite these new precautions, concussions and hits to the head are still a problem in the NHL. Recently, the NHL has made it mandatory for all new players entering the league to wear a visor to protect them from pucks to the face. Is it popular now? No. But in about 10 or 12 years or so, we should see every player a wearing a visor. But, because nothing is simple, the NHL has caught on to a new problem this rule is causing. Fighting on the ice is a big draw for hockey fans. But it’s very hard to punch someone’s teeth out when they have a visor on, so the players have starting taking their helmets off before a fight, which, obviously creates another problem. The solution (for now) is creating penalties for removing helmets on the ice, one long-term solution being thrown around is getting rid of fighting, period.

What do you think the NHL should do to solve this problem? Do you think that other professional sports could learn from what the NHL has done for concussion prevention?

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