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Crosby's Case Raises Concussion Awareness

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
It’s been a long eight months for Sidney Crosby as he continues to recover from a concussion suffered in early January.


Crosby is expected to make a full recovery and return to game action, with his physician, Dr. Michael Collins, saying he is “very optimistic that we’ll see Sid have a very long, fruitful NHL career.”

If there is anything positive to be taken from his long road to recovery, it’s that Crosby – the Penguins captain who is widely regarded as the best player in the world – can continue to create concussion awareness and education through his experiences, and also inspire changes to enhance the safety of the game.

RELATED: Crosby Expected to Make Full Recovery and Return to Game Action >>

Sidney Crosby (Getty Images)
“It’s a scary thing, and I think that we’ve got to be aware of it,” Crosby said of concussions. “I’ve been much more educated over the last 6, 7 months here with how serious these are. I think we continue to educate ourselves.

“But we can have as much education as we want – if concussions are as prominent as they are now, it doesn’t matter how much you know about them – they’re going to be a problem. So I think we’ve got to make steps to help avoid them and not deal with this.”

Dr. Collins described concussions as an “invisible injury … a very complicated, convoluted, cryptic thing to go through.” The symptoms in themselves are hard enough to handle, as they include headaches, fogginess, fatigue, noise and light sensitivity and problems with cognitive functioning. Then when they disappear for long periods of time and end up reoccuring, it’s even more frustrating.

It’s an injury that’s difficult to explain to those who haven’t experienced it, which makes education and awareness all the more important for two reasons – one, to make sure people are being properly diagnosed and treated, and two, to emphasize the seriousness of it for preventative purposes.

“It’s a roller coaster,” Crosby said. “As much as we can sit here and talk about what it’s like, it’s hard to really understand unless you’ve gone through it. I think that’s why there’s the importance of educating people and just making sure that you maybe can’t understand what it’s like, but you can prepare for it and make sure you do that part. I think there’s strides and that the education has gotten better, but I think we can still do more.”

There are steps being taken right now to enhance player safety and eliminate headshots from the game. For example, the Penguins Foundation recently teamed with Heads Up Pittsburgh to offer free baseline concussion testing and educational programs to youth hockey players in the area, while Hockey Canada recently adopted a zero tolerance policy toward headshots at all levels of the game under its jurisdiction.

RELATED: Crosby Media Conference Transcript: 9/7/11 >>

Crosby, a native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia who won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics, believes implementing such rules inspire the right mindset from an early age.
 
It’s a scary thing, and I think that we’ve got to be aware of it. I’ve been much more educated over the last 6, 7 months here with how serious these are. I think we continue to educate ourselves. But we can have as much education as we want – if concussions are as prominent as they are now, it doesn’t matter how much you know about them – they’re going to be a problem. So I think we’ve got to make steps to help avoid them and not deal with this. - Sidney Crosby, on concussions
“I’m totally in agreement with that,” he said of Hockey Canada’s decision. “I think that’s very important at the grassroots level. This is what kids are going to know. It’s all they’re going to know when they start playing hockey now.”

But while implementing such a mindset at the amateur levels will certainly prove beneficial for youth hockey players, Crosby believes that more changes must be made at the professional ranks to make the game safer.

“I think we can go further,” Crosby said. “I think at the end of the day, I don’t think there’s a reason not to take (headshots) out. I read a stat that there were 50,000 hits in a year, and we’re maybe talking about 50 (headshots). To take those out, the game is not going to change. As players, we’re professionals. The odd time, maybe there’s accidental contact. But for the most part, we can control what goes on out there. It’s a fast game, for sure. But we’ve got to be responsible, too. “

Crosby knows the game is better than it’s ever been. It’s fast-paced, flowing, physical and an absolute blast to watch, and he understands the hesitancy behind trying to limit certain types of contact.

But he believes eliminating headshots will protect the players while still keeping the integrity of the game intact.

“Guys have got to responsible with their sticks, why shouldn’t they be responsible with the rest of their bodies when they’re going to hit someone,” he said. “Whether it’s accidental or not accidental, you’ve got to be responsible out there. At the end of the day, (eliminating head shots) could do a lot more good than what it’s going to take away from the game or possibly take away from the game.

WATCH: CROSBY MEDIA CONFERENCE, 9/7/11

“(Hockey) is great, it’s fast and it’s as physical as it’s probably ever been and it’s just going to get better. But we’ve got to kind of adjust with things too, and I think it’s an important thing to really look at.”

Crosby’s doctors – Dr. Collins, director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh, and Dr. Ted Carrick, director of Carrick Institute in Florida and distinguished professor of neurology at Life University in Georgia – deal with concussion patients for a living.

While their treatment of Crosby is focused on returning him to hockey, their utmost concern is making sure he has a normal, happy life – like they do with the rest of their patients.

“Our greatest direction is to ensure that Sid has a very fruitful and positive life – that he can do anything he wishes to do in hockey and after hockey,” Dr. Carrick said.

“If we can put our direction to preventing more injuries such as this and then address the people that do have concussions, then we can make a very, very profound statement that not only can affect the sport of hockey and other sports, but society in general. So we’ve got a long course ahead of us.”
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