Who is the NHL Really Protecting from Concussions?

The “Quiet Room” has been around since 2011, but did the National Hockey League develop it to protect the players or the league itself? “Better late than never,” was the consensus of experts around the league, when the NHL implemented its new concussion protocol four years ago. So what was the tipping point that made the NHL decide it was the right time to revamp their safety protocols? Was it a spike in the number of concussions or was new data found through studies about the long-term effects caused by concussions? It was neither. The tipping point came when the league’s poster boy, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was plagued by a series of concussions that kept him off the ice for several months.

(Youtube, 2011)

          So what exactly is the Quiet Room and how does it work? It’s a designated space in the team’s dressing room where a player who is involved in a potential concussion causing play during a game can go for further testing. Once inside, the team’s medical doctor uses the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool 2 (SCAT2) to properly screen the player in an area free of distractions (Clark, 2014). This is a sizeable improvement from what used to be the athletic trainer asking the player on the bench if he felt fine to continue playing. SCAT2 is a cognitive test, that when properly administered takes approximately 45 minutes to conduct. This is a significant amount of time for a game that lasts just over 2 hours, which may encourage team doctors to take shortcuts to get players back into the game. This has resulted in a frequent occurrence of players returning to the game just minutes after leaving to the quiet room.

This new protocol introduces an ethical dilemma for team doctors, and calls into question the benefit of the Quiet Room altogether. Team doctors have a professional duty to uphold and should objectively act in the players’ best interest for their health and safety. On the other hand, being on a team’s payroll, they are undoubtedly feeling the pressure from management to get players back into action as soon as possible. This pressure is huge, especially during playoffs when every shift counts and winning is second to none. Keeping a star player from returning to a game could be the difference between winning and losing, and that decision is one I’m glad I don’t have to make. Furthermore, with salary bonuses built into staff’s contracts based on team success, ethical lines become extremely blurred at the professional level. It’s apparent there was more than one flaw with the implementation of the initial concussion protocol, but at least it was a start.

Concussions-NHLPolicy

(Techknow Blog, 2015)

Stiffer penalties and suspensions associated with body checks targeting the head, as well as blind-side hits on unsuspecting opponents were also implemented shortly after as an extended measure of safety. These suspensions also carry monetary fines for the guilty player in an effort to further discourage players from making dangerous hits that often lead to concussions. Despite the leagues best efforts, statistics did not show a reduced number of concussions following adoption of the new rules (Puskar, 2013). Additionally, information shows that players who have had a concussion are 3 to 6 times more likely of receiving a second concussion signals that further efforts needed to be made to ensure players are 100% healthy before returning (Sports Concussion Institute, 2012). Given this, most people thought it was a no brainer for the league to adopt the National Football League’s policy stating an independent neurologist must clear every player diagnosed with a concussion before being cleared to play. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for the NHL to show their commitment to player safety and regain respect of fans and everyone associated with the NHL. Nonetheless, it appears they were content with the additional revenue generated from the fines, and felt they had done their share addressing the situation.

In March of 2015, the NHL’s attempt to dismiss a Class Action Complaint filed by former players regarding traumatic brain injuries was denied (Robbins Geller Rudman and Dowd LLP, 2015). The league is unable to change what has happened to players in the past, but this decision forced it to realize additional steps must be taken to prevent future litigation. At the start of the 2015-16 season, the first amendment to the concussion protocol was instituted. From now on, two league-employed professionals trained in concussion prevention will be at each game, with the sole job of spotting players showing symptoms of concussions (Wyshynski, 2015). Although this seems like an improvement on the surface, there is little change from the original procedure. These spotters are able to contact the bench and inform them of their findings throughout the game, however they are not empowered to mandate the player to leave the ice for evaluation. Unlike in the NFL, teams still have a choice whether to use the league-designated spotters, or continue using their trainers and doctors. This leaves everyone wondering if the league is serious about protecting the players, or if they are simply protecting themselves from future lawsuits.

Worth nearly half a billion-dollars, the only true determinant of the leagues priorities, between profit and player safety, is seen through their actions. The fact their policies only change when reacting to an event demonstrates they change out of necessity, rather than proactively addressing player’s safety. With much of the NHL’s research remaining private, it is difficult to make a definite conclusion on their stance, though this is all about to change. As part of the class action case, the league has been ordered to turn over their research on concussions as well as all correspondence relating to the topic (Stinson, 2015) . In the near future, this information will become public knowledge and display the league’s genuine ethical view on the matter. If the evidence indicates what many believe it will, it could force significant action in creating a safety policy similar to the NFL’s that better represent the sports inherent dangers.

Additional Resources:

http://www.si.com/nhl/2015/08/10/nfl-new-concussion-procedure-nhl-lawsuit

http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2015/03/the-repercussions-of-concussions/

http://www.tsn.ca/montador-s-family-to-sue-nhl-1.281028

Works Cited

(2011). Retrieved from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-vGuHLIPoc

(2012). Retrieved 2015, from Sports Concussion Institute: http://www.concussiontreatment.com/concussionfacts.html

(2015). Retrieved from Robbins Geller Rudman and Dowd LLP: http://www.nhlconcussionlitigation.com/

(2015, October 29). Retrieved from Techknow Blog: http://america.aljazeera.com/content/dam/ajam/images/shows/innovation/tkepisodes/110-concussions/Concussions-NHLPolicy.gif

Clark, A. (2014, April 4). Retrieved from The Hockey Feed: http://feed.nchl.com/entering-nhls-best-kept-secret-the-quiet-room/

Puskar, G. (2013, July 17). Retrieved 2015, from Sportsnet: http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/nhl-rules-on-headshots-made-little-difference/

Stinson, S. (2015, August 15). Retrieved from National Post: http://news.nationalpost.com/sports/nhl/nhl-asked-to-turn-over-data-in-concussion-lawsuit-but-much-remains-unknown-about-sports-and-head-injuries

Wyshynski, G. (2015, September 16). Retrieved from Yahoo Sports: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/turns-out-nhl-concussion-spotters-are-toothless-195823020.html

 

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