Even after Sidney Crosby's public appeal, the NHL is showing that it still doesn't understand the seriousness of the concussion problem. It's not only the views of the governors, the commissioner or the general managers that should matter. The views of the game's top player, and other players, past and present, should count for something. Apparently, they do not.
Still recovering from a head shot that has kept him out of the game since early January, a serious blow to the game that you'd think would deeply trouble its owners, investors and bureaucrats, Mr. Crosby said, "No matter if it's from the blind side or straight on, if someone targets the head, then yeah, I think that should be banned." There's a growing consensus around toughened rules on head shots, but not among the GMs who ended their annual meetings on Wednesday at the hockey hotbed of Boca Raton, Florida. Their response was to, in hockey jargon, turtle.
Rather than move aggressively, and outlaw all head hits, the GMs said they would urge officials to apply existing rules more vigorously and spoke about tougher suspensions for illegal hits - the same formula that has been applied in previous incidents, with little success. They also conceded that perhaps trainers on the team benches are not the best ones to judge whether players stunned by head hits should be sent back onto the ice - a welcome step, but hardly a game-changer. The really significant changes, rules that would effectively take head shots out of the NHL, were sent to a special committee headed by league vice-president Brendan Shanahan, who is hardly an impartial adjudicator, having made no secret of the fact he opposes the idea.
The chief justification the GMs offered was concern over how reforms that protect players would alter the perceived dynamic of the game, and hence its entertainment value. As one put it, "It's a hard-hitting game." Indeed it is, as anyone who has seen the hit on Mr. Crosby, or the recent targeting of the head of Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty can attest.
Hockey fans want to be entertained. They also want the assurance that the stars who entertain them are kept safe enough to play another day.