His words are measured and without self-pity. Yes, he will add his voice to those crying out for more respect among National Hockey League players, but attempts to get Eric Lindros to connect his own history of concussions to what Sidney Crosby is going through, or about to go through, get nowhere.
After a career ruined by six concussions and resulting political battles with a game and power structure that didn’t want to know what it was really dealing with, Lindros is all too aware that each concussion, let alone each person’s response to it, is unique, both in terms of rehabilitation and reintegration into the game. The star player is targeted; the third or fourth-liner worries about his job. Culture change? Good luck with that.
“What happens is you get tagged as being concussion prone, and there’s a huge decline in the respect you get because of it,” Lindros said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “It’s people trying to make their name, you know? It’s little things that occur after the play, like when it switches out of the corner and the play goes up the ice and you’re spinning around heading back up to back check and – bam! You know … where they kind of catch you.”
Is culture change coming to the NHL as a result of Crosby’s concussion? Or could it be that the only thing that has now happened is that Crosby has just had a target put on his back for the rest of his career? The answer depends on whether NHL players and agents realize how utterly daft they look.
Forget the owners. Forget Gary Bettman or Colin Campbell. They live in a muddle of money and rules and politics; by nature they can’t see the forest for the trees. They are lost causes. The agents are speaking up – some of them, at least – but mostly to throw the issue in the lap of the National Hockey League Players’ Association.
Note to the agents: You want change? Spend some money and get everybody together at the all-star game and go behind a locked door. Keep the press out. Turn off the BlackBerries. And read your players the riot act. Stress zero tolerance for a shot to the head, any hit above the shoulders. Then lobby for Draconian suspensions. If a few players get screwed for clearly accidental hits? Too bad. The game will go on without them.
“Well, we used to talk about this all the time when I was at the players’ association,” Lindros says, his voice trailing off.
You wait for the next statement. It never comes.
Lindros believes the seminal moment for the discussion of concussions and sports occurred in October of 2009 when the iconic CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes devoted a segment to concussions among NFL players and a possible link to early-onset dementia. “That’s when the big push finally started, it seems,” Lindros said. “The pressure initially was on the NFL. But then it moved to other organizations.”
Is this the NHL’s come-to-Jesus moment? As Lindros noted, it is both “ironic and unfortunate” that it appears as if it’s taken a concussion sustained by the game’s biggest name to create at least a sense of movement. Once upon a time he was that name – or one of them – and nobody seemed to learn much from the lesson that was his career.
So let’s see what happens the first time Crosby is back on the ice and in a vulnerable position, with some rock-head circling. “Guys take liberties,” Lindros said matter-of-factly. That they do, and until that stops, there will be no culture change. Just lost opportunity and, most likely, more lost careers.
The NHL can’t say it wasn’t warned.