You Can’t Protect Players From Themselves


Remember that time everyone called Duncan Keith a hero because he played after losing some teeth? Bobby Baun scored a Cup winning goal on a fractured ankle, no big deal. 

As eloquently summed up by Ellen Etchingham over at the Backhand Shelf, many fans and members of the media are outraged at the state of player safety and supplemental discipline in the NHL. As she points out fixing supplemental disciple and the culture surrounding headshots will be a long, arduous, and incremental process. But as much as we can try to reduce the number of concussions and increase the harshness of the punishment the issue will never be totally eradicated. As fans and observers we have to accept the fact that players will sacrifice their health and well being for the sake of winning.

With the Vancouver Canucks down 3-0 to the L.A. Kings Daniel Sedin, who suffered a concussion as a result of a Duncan Keith elbow, has been cleared by team doctors to return to action. While his status for game 4 is unknown I think we can agree that if it were the Canucks holding a 3-0 he would be relaxing at home in Vancouver tonight.

I mentioned on Twitter last night that NHL players lying about post-concussion syndromes is this generation’s lying about their age to enlist. This belief was further strengthened by one of Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts from this week:

“Ottawa’s doctors prevented Daniel Alfredsson from playing in Game 3, so he wrote "Do it for Family" on the greaseboard in the dressing room and went home. ("Family 2012" is the team’s playoff motto.) It’s easy to look from outside and say, "Alfredsson shouldn’t risk it." But when you’re 39 and you’ve never won, you don’t know how long you have left and you’re on a team with a chance, well, if you’re honest with yourself, you know you’d want to play, too.

Elliotte’s absolutely right. You can’t blame either Alfredsson or Sedin for wanting to return early and help their team contend for the Cup. But contrast it with another thought from a few weeks back:

“(Tyler) Ennis confirmed a story written by The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy: that he had one awkward pre-draft interview, refusing to answer a question about taking a pill that would guarantee a Stanley Cup victory but kill you in a decade. "It was with Toronto," he said. "I like my sleep and woke up about five minutes beforehand (8 a.m)…I said, ‘That’s ridiculous. I want to win the Cup, but I don’t want to die in 10 years.’"

Returning early or trying to play through a concussion is obviously not equivalent to a pill that would kill you, but the spirit of the decision is the same. Are you willing to sacrifice your life in the future, either in part or as a whole for the reward of winning the Stanley Cup?  

You have to wonder how Sedin and Alfredsson would answer that question, and if Tyler Ennis might change his mind when it could be his last chance.

The desire of fans and media to reduce and eliminate the damage caused by concussions is at odds with the player’s desire to win. While we can try to protect players from eachother, we will never be able to protect them from themselves. In the end we have to accept that many players are willing to risk their health and well-being “Because It’s The Cup.”