Headshots And NHL

The National Hockey League took a swift and correct move back in October to remove blindside hits to the head from the game.  The move was made for player safety, and in particular to try to reduce concussions in the sport.  However we saw the NHL’s #1 star, Sidney Crosby, take a shot to the head in the Winter Classic that was obviously deemed legal (there was no penalty), and he is still suffering post concussion symptoms.  Now there is a call for the NHL to remove all shots to the head, a “no-brainer” in my mind;

It shouldn’t take having your best player knocked out of the game to get rid of headshots.Of course, there is no reason to believe having leading scorer Sidney Crosby, the NHL’s marquee guy, suffer a concussion will do anything to change the level of urgency the NHL should be feeling to penalize all contact to the head.

That’s where we are now. Just penalizing blindside headshots clearly isn’t enough. Just look at what has gone on this week.After researching a three-part series on concussions and their immediate and long-term effects, it has become clear the NHL should penalize all contact to the head, intentional, predatory or simply accidental.

Players have to be responsible for their sticks, right? An accidental high stick still gets you a penalty (most of the time, anyway). So why not shoulders, too?

Maybe if he knew he would get a penalty, David Steckel of the Washington Capitals might have tried harder to avoid hitting Crosby the way he did in the Winter Classic — the hit Pat Brisson, Crosby’s agent, now blames for the concussion which has kept Crosby out for the past four games, with no date set for his return.

Chris Stevenson of the Barrier Examiner wrote more, and is exactly right.  I do want to make some issues clear, however…

First, it is interesting that Crosby’s agent is now officially stating that the hit during the Winter Classic is the one that caused the issue (as we have been saying since it happened).  Not only is it a capitulation of the facts, but it also underscored the problem we are having at ALL levels of sports, players PLAYING with symptoms.  Crosby played in the next Penguin game versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.  This issue needs to be handled correctly as there are other people/organizations/medical teams watching on how these issues are handled.

Second, and probably more important, is that banning shots to the head will not remove concussions from hockey or any sport.  Although research in football suggests that the majority of concussive episodes are a result from direct contact to the body, results from contact to the head are difficult to find.  From a purely observational standpoint as an athletic trainer I can tell you that A LOT of concussions come from rotational and terminal velocities.  Meaning that when the head is jarred as a result of the body being hit, the distribution of forces creates traumatic movement of the brain inside the skull, causing the pathological response we know as a concussion.  CONCUSSIONS DO NOT REQUIRE HEAD CONTACT.  But as Stevenson put it, it will definitely make players think twice about aiming for the head if you are going to sit.

Further notes as it relates to NFL concussions and “head shots”….As we all know, the NFL implemented a more aggressive fine system for helmet-to-helmet hits, but since then the rate did not fall, it actually increased.  Up to Week 7 we observed a concussion rate of 8.5/week or .57 concussion/game, and at the end of the regular season both those numbers increased, even after the decree from the league 9.35 and .62 respectively.

Take it for what its worth, but any contact to the head is a good start.

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