Tuesday, September 20, 2011

missing the point

It is great that the NHL is actively working to create a safer working environment for its players.  In the NFL helmet to helmet contact or leading with the helmet is illegal and has been for a while.  I was listening to the radio today and the topic of discussion centred around the vague description of a head shot.  It's strange how something so simple could be so difficult to define.  Worse than that it totally misses the point.

Hits that target the head or the head is the primary point of impact are punishable, but what if the head is struck but not targeted or absorbing the most of the blow? 

It's not so much the confusion behind the rule as the inneptitude of the rule as a whole.  What logic dictates that a head injury comes only from a hit directly to the head? Of the  many definitions of the word concussion the one constant theme is "violent shaking or jarring". It's not so much where the hit lands as the whiplash which causes the brain to rock. A punch, elbow or shoulder in the face is probably less likely to cause a concussion then a high-impact hit to the body.

The bigger issue is that hockey is the fastest contact sport and thusly produces injuries that can't be compared to other contact sports like football.  The NHL sees the obvious answer to its media problem as the farce of the head shot, but it's all smoke and mirrors.  Really, where is the common sense?  Even worse is the idea that hard plastic coverings on elbow pads and sholder caps is to blame.  They are only as strong as the force behind them.

This brand of high-octane hockey in confined spaces is causing an increase in concussions.  When hitting and fighting were much more prominent in the league (althought statistics will show increases in fighting just take a look at a fight from 25 years ago and try to tell me todays bear-hugging staged faceoffs are anything close to the same) there were less head injuries.  There aren't any more head shots than there once was there's just more speed and less space.  The real answer is a bigger ice surface and it's a much harder fix than confusing head shot and equipment rules.  As long as the head shot decoy keeps everyone in the grey then the NHL won't feel pressure to force its owners to lose a row or two of high price tickets in revamping their arenas.

This doesn't mean the necessary change will never happen.  We've all seen how fast arenas can be altered when league sponsors threaten the NHL's bottom line after yet another embarassing preventable life-altering injury

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