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In Ottawa this week, sports celebrities and technocrats got together to wrestle with the concussion problem. They called the gathering We Can Do Better.

They agreed that sports need a unified concussion protocol, that education is key and that concussion deniers need to get caught up with science.

Though well-meaning, it was rather like holding an anti-war conference to argue how we might more humanely remove wounded from the battlefield – say, by carrying them on stretchers rather than dragging them by the feet.

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We're getting things backward. The problem isn't how to treat people after they're bullet-riddled. The problem is that they are being shot in the first place.

This meeting was about head trauma in all sports, but, since this is Canada, it was really about hockey. Any Canadian discussion about hockey is primarily about the NHL. Change that iteration of the game and every other level will fall into line.

Hockey's primary dilemma when it comes to head injuries should not be concussion assessment, concussion treatment and concussion awareness. (Seriously, is there anyone left who isn't aware that getting hit hard in the head is bad for your health?) The first goal of the movement should be eliminating concussions, in so far as that is possible.

This butts up against two contradictory hockey trends (neither of which have anything to do with the "man's game" ethos) – the modern safety cult and our reluctance to change any of the rites of our national religion.

In order to make ourselves safer on the ice, we've spent decades adding to the amount and imperviousness of hockey equipment. These days, it's the sort of armour a medieval knight would've envied – cheap, lightweight and close to indestructible.

If you removed and/or reduced some of the armour, you take away two things – a weapon and the false impression that you can't be hurt while wearing it.

People will complain that this is putting them at risk. (Another way of saying that "I've already paid for all this stuff, and I like it"). It won't.

There is no reason for a hockey player to have the same type of shoulder pads as a linebacker, unless their function is to make you a human battering ram. Substitute soft, thin padding for the rigid stuff and you eliminate the battering-ram mentality.

It's a simple solution, but unlike the "let's get together, hold hands and pray things get better" approach, it requires real action. Also, it's unpopular.

Another simple change – alter the aggressive physics of the game by putting fewer players on the ice.

One of the things that occurs to you when you watch the NHL of 50 years ago as opposed to the game of today is how much more crowded the playing surface seems. The modern player is bigger and moves more quickly than his predecessors. He gets to the puck faster, putting more bodies in the strike zone. Once he gets there, he's so decked out in plastic plating, he doesn't hesitate to catapult himself at his opponent. After all, what bad thing could happen (to the guy doing the catapulting)? The result is more collisions and more violent ones.

When do the worst impacts reduce dramatically? During overtime, when there are fewer men at play and, therefore, more time and space in which to operate. Roll two billiard balls randomly across the velvet of a pool table. Now roll 10. And now imagine the balls have the capacity to move out of each other's way. What do you think the difference will be? This isn't rocket science. It's just science.

What hockey's many critics miss when likening their head-trauma crisis to football's is how much more easily the former could be altered to make it safer.

Football is always going to be about groups of large men lining each other up and running directly into one another. That's the point of it. It's how every single play is meant to end. There is only one way to solve that problem – stop playing football.

Hockey is instead about advancing as far as you can and then passing the puck away before you're hit. If you get nailed, you have, on some level, failed. The hit is a punishment for that. A perfect offensive hockey play is one in which no player is struck full-on. When it happens over the course of 60 minutes, we call it Olympic-style hockey, as if it is only possible at the Olympics (where a larger ice surface mitigates the spacing problem).

And, of course, it is possible every night at every level if a few (major) tweaks are made to the game. People will always get hit while playing hockey, but they can be hit less and with reduced impact and/or recklessness. Fewer players opens the game up, lets skill flourish, gives NHL hockey back the flow it has been losing for years.

What's so frustrating about this is that by making elite hockey safer, you would also make it more enjoyable viewing.

If people wanted to spend their evenings watching objects chaotically banging into each other, Montreal traffic cams would be broadcast in prime time. That's being proved and reproved in the TV ratings each year. Ask Rogers.

Instead, this is that unicorn of crisis management – a single solution that that addresses two very separate crises.

All it requires is some boldness, which is in short supply whenever a legacy operation is involved.

The people who met this week in Ottawa can't dictate anything to the NHL. They'd clearly like to keep the league sweet and pliant with their reasonable measures. But by proposing patches instead of fixes, they're giving hockey the institutional cover it needs to maintain the status quo.

More people may be salved once they've had their heads badly rattled. But the head rattling will continue unabated. How is that progress?

There is no question we can do better. But "we" don't have anything to do with it. The question is whether the cabal of NHL executives and owners who make these decisions will ever want to.

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