Concussions in sport

On January 27, Dennis Wideman checked linesman, Don Henderson in Calgary. The NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman levelled the defenseman with a 20-game suspension.

On the face of it, the second longest ban in the history of the league fits the crime. Especially, as it left the ref suffering post-concussion symptoms from the event.

However, delving into the background is when it becomes murky. The Calgary defenseman had just been knocked into the boards. From that ugly scene, he did not look aware of his surroundings as he made his way towards the bench.

Within their explanation for the suspension, the league confirmed that he suffered a head injury.

“It is accepted for the purposes of this decision that [Wideman] was later diagnosed as having suffered a concussion. However, that fact – even accepted as true – cannot excuse Wideman’s subsequent actions.”

Bettman did not believe the advice of two concussion experts to be enough to overturn the decision. He said:

“In short, the record as a whole does not support the contention that Mr. Wideman’s actions were the result of confusion, a failure of ‘impulse control’ or a loss of balance. Moreover, to find on a record such as this one that the player was not responsible for the consequences of his actions would set a precedent that could be easily manipulated in the future in a way that would make the game more dangerous for all participants, including players.”

These circumstances are rare, but, it does feel like the league is protecting its brand. Which does not come across as a surprise. As a result of this sanction, Wideman will miss a quarter of the season and the half a million dollars he was due.

What is worrying that the player in question refused the help of the medics while sat on the bench. The game is full of big hits and skaters plying their craft through a high pain threshold. As a result, it should not come as a shock that one of its members kept their bravado even if it was to their own detriment.

A player should not be punished for not disclosing their injury. They know that their position is under threat constantly throughout their career. A person should not be harshly dealt with when the damage is of the brain’s ability to function. However, the NHL used this to their advantage and strengthened their position.

It is crass of the league to hide behind somebody that puts their body on the line to make them money to be the fall guy. The NHL and its executives are making sure it will not be them that takes the hit on this. In this instance, not to the player, but to one of their officials.

Two NHLPA doctors gave testimony in Wideman’s appeal, Paul Comper, and Jeffrey Kutcher. Comper described many “outward objective” signs of concussion, including “anything from balance impairment to disorientation, not knowing where they are, to garbled speech and confusion.”

Kutcher added it is “very, very common” for the concussion to result in “a change in awareness, a change in basically any cognitive ability that the brain possesses so a lack of orientation, impulse control, memory issues, personality changes, inability to coordinate complex tasks.”

Concussions are difficult to diagnose immediately. It does not need a medical expert to identify if a person is of sound, body and mind. You can formulate an opinion from the footage below.

The concussion protocol is sloppy and gives the league a loophole. It places the incentive on the individual to report the injury. Safe in the knowledge that those persons have many reasons not to report an incident. The lunacy of having a person with a brain issue trying to compute that decision is negligent.

Wideman had never been suspended in any of his first 800 games which span north of 10 years. It seems out of character for him to lay waste to an authority figure. Now if he was frustrated, it would be easier to get retribution on his opponent and take the in-game penalty. As a side, Wideman’s opponent, Miikka Salomaki was not disciplined for the hit that caused the Canadian’s concussion. Why would the former Florida Panther not want to exact his revenge on the Finn. That would seem to be the correct course of action.

The league took the steps they had to take to protect themselves. The NHL is facing multiple class-action lawsuits from players. The ex-pros are alleging that they were not warned about the dangers of head trauma.

They are also seeking payment as they believe they were provided adequate care when suffering from head injuries. If these accusations were proven, it could get messy quickly. It would be opening a pandora’s box. The financial ramifications it can have for American Sports would be catastrophic.

A fan of the game does not wish to see what happened to Don Henderson happen again. But, the punishment does not fit the crime and does not stop these incidents happening again. All it does is cover the backsides of those in charge by pushing the league’s dirty little secret onto the ones that love(d) playing the game.

You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.


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