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League needs help from players to limit concussions

by Jeremy Roenick
NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick is blogging for this season. In today's blog, Roenick provides his personal opinions about what's proved effective in reducing concussions and preventing further symptoms among NHL players, plus what the League and its players still need to do.

With so many star players now sidelined with concussions or concussion-like symptoms, the topic has to be explored. Here are my thoughts:

What's Clicking?

The game is different today. It's not the same game it was when I started in the late '80s, and it's still not even the same game from the early 2000s. This is a big-business sport where you have extreme physical contact, extreme speed and extremely talented players that are in peak athletic condition.

For those reasons, concussions seem to be more rampant nowadays. We can put the blame on the speed and ferocity of the game, because whether you get hit in the head or you don't, the surge and the way your body is jolted every time you make contact with somebody rattles your brain. That is very important to understand.

Back 20 years ago we didn't think of it that way. We didn't think about hurting ourselves. We thought of it as pain and something we had to play through. Actually a lot of guys thought it was honorable and manly to play through concussions, broken bones and pulled muscles -- but in actuality the damage we did to our bodies could end up being life-altering down the road. That remains to be seen.

But let's take it back to the present. Due to all the research that has been done on concussions and considering what the National Hockey League now knows about concussions and how it plays in part to your brain, this is an issue that must be taken very seriously. Your brain and heart are the most important parts of your body. If they go, there's no sense in going on.

I applaud the NHL for doing all it can to protect the players from injury, not only current injuries but future injuries. And, yes, sometimes the players need to be protected from themselves.

Hockey players are proud people. They want to be looked at as tough, as guys who can play through injuries and do what is best for the team. Doing that at times can be a serious health risk, so I'm glad the NHL has taken such an aggressive stance in making sure that when guys get their bells rung they go to a quiet room, get evaluated and either go back in the game or sit out to rest.

I hope it doesn't go too far to the point that every time players get hit they go down and call for suspensions. I hope the guys are tough enough to play through the injuries they think they can play through and they think they should play through. The concussion issue is front and center now, and with so much attention on it players are fearful for their well-being and teams are fearful for their players.

Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are the main subjects behind that -- but like the NHL, I applaud the Penguins for how smart they've been in treating Crosby's injury as cautiously as they are. Their approach is what is best for the player, but I worry about Crosby's future in the National Hockey League. The fact that he had a setback after a seemingly normal body-contact situation that happened in a game arguably sets off more alarms than the 10 months he sat out.

The Penguins and Crosby will have to evaluate how bad this is and whether his body is capable and built to withstand the contact that professional hockey demands night in and night out. I'm concerned because I really enjoy watching Crosby play, and I would like to see him play for the next 15 years and dazzle us.

What's missing?

We can no longer ignore the stupidity of the hits that are still happening today despite the fact that the players know the concussion aspect is such a big part of the game and sports in general.

You saw Chris Stewart get suspended for hitting Niklas Kronwall from behind. You saw Andy Sutton get suspended for jumping in the air -- a 6-foot-6 and 240-pound defenseman jumping in the air -- to hit Alexei Ponikarovsky. These hits are absolutely unnecessary and the stupidity is beyond belief.

Brendan Shanahan probably never thought he would be so busy doling out suspensions because of the lack of intelligence of so many players in very dangerous situations.

NHL players have to understand that it is a different game, a more powerful game in a different era, and the respect of the players' well-being has to come into play at every area of the ice.

There are too many hits from behind near the boards. There are too many elbows to the head. There are too many blindside hits.

It's one thing to hit strong and hard, but it's another thing to throw elbows, have knee-on-knee hits, hits from behind, cross checks on defensemen who are four feet from the boards.

I'd like to know when is the respect factor is going to come back into the game.

Let me also be clear -- I wasn't the fairest hitter. I left my feet. I hit guys from behind. I had my fair share of dirty hits and cheap hits. I hit to inflict pain at times, without question. I needed that intimidation factor because of my size.

Shame on me, but it was a totally different mentality when I played the game. This game today is much faster, much stronger and more scrutinized because it is bigger business. These players are worth much more than they were when I started, and they better start adapting to the new era of the National Hockey League by respecting each other.
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