NHL and Concussions: Ralph Nader, Brendan Shanahan and Mike Milbury

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIFebruary 14, 2012

Mike Milbury knows hockey, but ignores the overwhelming evidence of the dangers of concussions
Mike Milbury knows hockey, but ignores the overwhelming evidence of the dangers of concussionsBruce Bennett/Getty Images

There are generally two schools of thought among followers of the NHL when it comes to cheap shots and fighting: Stop the violence or don't be a sissy. As always, common sense is near the middle.

In his new role as president of player safety, Brendan Shanahan is adeptly walking the fine line that separates them. He understands the game and the good things the league is trying to do.

His punishments, with a few exceptions, show he comes from a position of trying to clean up the game. But as the kind of player who had over a dozen Gordie Howe hat tricks (fight, goal and assist in the same game) in his career, they are not heavy-handed. That is why his decisions are frequently criticized by both camps.

Tuesday morning, Ken Campbell wrote this linked article in The Hockey News that accused Shanny of "progressively lowering the standards of tolerance for violence and dragging the game back down to the standards that constantly gave a black eye to the NHL before his arrival" for giving too little discipline to Dominic Moore (see video below).

That is in sharp contrast to Mike Milbury on NBC Sports Network during Monday night's broadcast of the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals. (Check the following link for a recap of that game.)

While reviewing a play in the Carolina-Montreal game in which Eric Staal elbowed Tomas Plekanec in the head, he voiced approval for the action. Then he said about broadcasting partner Keith Jones in a mocking, childish tone: "Jonesy's gonna cry about suspension 'cause he hit his head."

He specifically said he wants elbows to the head and called on players to respond like "men do when they play hockey" rather than have the play result in discipline from Shanny.

Nothing more pathetic than acting like a 12-year-old boy by questioning the manhood of someone who does not like dangerous shots to the head. But then, Milbury is used to bullying 12-year olds, so it should come as no surprise he speaks to their level instead of considering the evidence.

Put aside what Jones pointed out: Staal's hit was not much different than the one Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals took is missing games because of. Never mind the time lost due to concussions by Backstrom, Claude Giroux, the NHL's best player, Sidney Crosby or one of its longest-standing tough guys, Chris Pronger.

People are dying because of the long-term effects of head shots (four brain-damaged players killed themselves in eight-plus months in 2011). The problem is so severe that Ralph Nader sent an open letter on the concussion problem in hockey.

I completely disagree with Ryan Lambert at that link, who said that the deaths cannot be tied to fighting—three of the four suicides were by noted enforcers. There would also be fewer fights if there were fewer people taking liberties with a teammate's noggin.

But by all means, we should keep doing things the way we always have as Milbury suggests.

It is far better that a fraction of the hockey audience have their insecure masculinity satisfied than to attract the many fans who watch only Olympic hockey because they see the NHL as a league of thugs. It is even more important than players' lives.

It is time for the dinosaurs to be extinct. If Milbury is going to continue to advocate for people's lives to be put in jeopardy, it is his right to do so in a free society. It is also the right of the league to demand NBC remove him from their broadcasts.

I have little doubt that someone in the macho camp will accuse me of being female genitalia for taking this stance. I do not mind fighting in the game and have never backed down from one in my life—including this one—even in face of certain and often childish ridicule.

That is because I am the kind of enforcer who protects players, not endangers them. I am tossing off the gloves, Milbury. You have to go, and so do your cheap shots on those on my team fighting for safety.