On Monday, the NHL once again began holding its collective breath when superstar Sidney Crosby announced to the media that he was again suffering post-concussion symptoms. Crosby used a phrase that Pittsburgh fans have dreaded for 10 months: "out indefinitely."
It's unfortunate that one of the game's brightest stars is missing in action. In his career, Crosby has posted a remarkable 584 points in only 420 games. But he played in only 41 games last year, leaving after what may have been concussions in consecutive games (in the Winter Classic and again in the Penguins' next game against Tampa).
But what's more, Crosby is putting a superstar face on an epidemic in the NHL.
If you haven't had a chance to read the remarkable series of articles that ran in the New York Times recently about the late Derek Boogaard, do yourself a favor and find time to do so (link here). In beautifully crafted words, the story of an enforcer is brought to life—a life that the subject tragically lost earlier this year.
What we see in the riveting story is too common with brawlers like Boogaard and Bob Probert who choose to take a more physical approach to the game. If a player is able and willing to drop the gloves, it's become too accepted for the player to suffer migraines and other serious pain on a regular basis.
Only now that research is being done on the brains of hockey and football players like Probert and the late Chicago Bears' Dave Duerson are we starting to understand the impact concussions and other head injuries have on a human being.
However, if you believe one former superstar, the game hasn't responded enough.
Perhaps the best example of a player that lived halfway between the vastly different worlds of Boogaard and Crosby was Eric Lindros. In May, Lindros told The Sporting News that he believes the rules of the game today are, in part, responsible for the concussion issues players are dealing with. This piece from Sports Illustrated in 2001 chronicles the concussion history of Lindros, which is hard to read knowing what we do now about the damage caused by getting rattled.
What's sad is the title of the SI piece: "Falling on Deaf Ears." For generations, concussions have been the dirty little secret of contact sports, and hockey was as guilty as any of trying to hide the problem. Lindros speaks about the stigma of being labeled "concussion-prone."
In May, before one of the most heart-wrenching summers for hockey fans across the continent because of the lives lost, Lindros called on the league to do more to protect their most valuable assets: the players.
Boogaard was a fighter, and many of his demons were left to be dealt with by him and those to whom he was close. Unfortunately, Boogaard wasn't a household name and his problems were never appropriately dealt with.
There hasn't been a high-profile player forced away from the spotlights in his prime the way Crosby has been. Less than 12 months after scoring the golden goal at the Olympics in Vancouver, he was a ghost to the league and nobody—not Crosby, not his coaches and certainly not doctors—could tell anyone when he would be back to "normal" and when he might skate again.
When Crosby came back, it was international news. He was back to being the fantastic, two-points-per-game captain the Pens had missed. But it couldn't last. Now, Crosby is back on a program that hopes to find that baseline of normalcy once again.
Since Crosby left the game, other players have been diagnosed earlier. Philadelphia is now without Chris Pronger and Claude Giroux because of concussions, just one of a handful of rosters playing without key players because of the new precautionary measures in place to do exactly what Lindros implored: protect the players.
While the game will certainly continue to be physical, and at times violent, the powers that be in hockey are trying to proactively handle potential problems before they become significant issues. It might not be the legacy of Lindros, but rather Boogaard, that ultimately leads to an understanding of the importance of dealing with head trauma appropriately.
But it will take a face and name like Crosby to force the NHL to look at itself in the mirror and consider critical changes to try to limit head injuries.