Latest action against head shots good to see

It’s taken far too long to get to this point, but now it seems like everything is falling into place.
The issue of concussions in sports still has a ways to go, but steps taken in the last few months—and even the last few days—have brought the issue back into the spotlight, right where it needs to be.
The most recent step forward came when an ESPN report Monday night stated the NFL was preparing to implement a plan where even first-time offenders could be suspended for so-called “devastating hits” and “head shots,” according to Chris Mortensen’s article.
The possibility of suspension is a huge development from previous policy where several first, and even second-time, offenders tended to face nothing more than a fine.
Mortensen cited four questionable hits from this Sunday alone, which helped to prompt the expected action, which could be implemented as early as this weekend.
The report came the same day as Phoenix Coyotes’ captain Shane Doan was suspended three games for a late hit to the head of Anaheim forward Dan Sexton the previous night.
While the Doan hit clearly was an illegal one (thankfully the NHL can review such plays after the fact, as there was no call initially on the play), most avid hockey fans with a decent memory likely can pick out at least a handful of hits that were far more egregious than Doan’s.
And chances are they weren’t punished to the same extent.
Doan generally has had a reputation as a hard-nosed player, but not generally as a dirty one, so seeing the league throw the book at a skilled player with no previous record is a positive step.
Granted, the NHL could have made a move about a week earlier when they suspended Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson for two games for his run at Buffalo’s Jason Pominville (two games seems light in comparison to the Doan suspension).
The other example comes from Major League Baseball, but has nothing to do with suspensions.
The Minnesota Twins opted to do the wise thing and sat slugger Justin Morneau for their ALDS match-up with the N.Y. Yankees. After a 3-0 sweep, in which their offence was their pitfall, you can bet the Twins would have loved to have had Morneau in action against the Bronx Bombers.
Still, they took the cautious approach and kept Morneau on the bench, where he had sat since sustaining the head injury against Toronto while sliding into second base back on July 7.
In light of athletes such as Boston’s Marc Savard and former major-leaguer Corey Koskie admitting they pushed themselves and returned to the game too soon, it’s encouraging to see Morneau not return until he’s absolutely ready.
It seems that the last few months, especially, has seen a shift in attitudes towards concussions as the injury’s dangers are coming more and more to light.
Hopefully things continue to progress, though. In a recent Fort Frances Lakers’ game here, an opposing player left the ice looking woozy—to the delight of a handful of fans in attendance at the game.
It’s a scary situation and a response that’s not concerned, let alone giddy, is unacceptable.
And not to rile the pro fighting-in-hockey crowd (I’m not getting into the merits of fighting in hockey as I’m still on the fence on a number of key issues), but I’d just like to share this scene from a different recent Lakers’ game.
The Laker and the visitor got into a bit of a scrap, ditching their helmets. Soon, the fight got away from centre ice, closer to the benches, and actually close to where I was standing on the ladder to take game photos.
The visitor scored the takedown and Laker player’s head went “thunk” on the ice.
I had a moment of real concern since I couldn’t get a viewing angle over top of the boards. But thankfully, he was able get up and skate off with a grin on his face after a fight well fought.
Still, just the moment between hearing the dull thud and seeing the combatant rise up was a bit of a shocker given things could have been much, much worse.
It’s an example of the distance that a sport like hockey still has to cover to stamp out as many unnecessary head injuries as possible. But the NHL’s suspension of Doan, along with actions taken by the NFL, certainly are a good start.
We’re thankfully not in an era of “Just shake the cobwebs out, you’re back on for the next shift” kind of mentality, but it’s not too far removed.
Yes, playing though a broken toe or any other purely physical injury is admirable, and shows the sign of a warrior willing to play through pain for his teammates.
But knowing what we know now, playing through a concussion crosses the line between brave and stupid since a concussed player may end up forced to play through the pain for far longer than anyone should have to.
Here’s hoping leagues of all sports and abilities continue to take head injuries seriously, but are able to maintain the delicate balance of entertainment and player safety.
There’s something absolutely exhilarating about seeing a bit hit in sports such as hockey and football. But hopefully in the future, it’s only bones, not brains, bearing the brunt of these highlight-reel blows.

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