Today, Cathal Kelly, a reporter for the Toronto Star blogged that Sidney Crosby should shut down his NHL career now for his health’s sake. The simple reason he gave for why he should shut it down is so Crosby could avoid the risk of living an “invalid’s life” for a game he’s “already conquered.” Not only is this viewpoint misguided and ignorant, it is sickeningly self-serving and desperate pageview seeking.
Firstly, claiming that Crosby has already conquered hockey is ridiculous. Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe are the only two players that I consider to have “conquered” hockey. Gretzky because of his obscene statistical success, growth of the game he caused, celebrity and championship success; and Howe simply because of his ability to play the game longer than anyone else by a score of years all while making an impact. Sure, Crosby has a Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and tons of individual accolades, but I guarantee you if you asked Crosby if he’s satisfied, there would be no way he would agree. Crosby has more goals: multiple Cups, more Olympic success, playing into his 40’s. No one dreams of winning one Cup and retiring at 24. Even though Crosby’s only 24, I do agree with Kelly that his ticket to the Hall of Fame is already punched, but he isn’t anywhere near “Legend” status in my mind. He’s got a ways to go before he hits Gretzky, Lemieux, Orr and Howe level status.
Kelly states that Crosby has had “eight months of abortive attempts to return.” If that isn’t blatantly false, it’s at the very least unproven. The word “abortive” makes this statement so inaccurate it’s angering. I haven’t heard anyone from the Pens organization state that Crosby has shut down or had to step back his work outs. What I have heard is an organization being obsessively cautious with their Hall of Fame franchise player, which is what I would fully expect. There’s been rampant speculation about Crosby’s conditions, but I refuse to listen to any of it. None of it can be proven to be based in fact rather than rumor, speculation or extrapolation. Granted, the Penguins could walk Crosby out, have a five minute press conference to explain his condition and all that would end (or at least settle down), but that doesn’t mean Crosby is sitting in his bedroom with blackout blinds and sound muffling headphones on. Kelly is just furthering the speculation and it is inappropriate and unprofessional.
Kelly further says “Whenever Crosby returns and for however long, the rest of his career will be an extended breath-holding exercise. Every fan will be waiting for the next time Crosby is laid out and wondering, ‘Is this the one?’” How is this any different than any other injury? I’ve held my breath numerous times when a player has gone down, worried that their season or worse, their career, is over. Now, I recognize, and agree with Kelly when he says “The crucial difference is that you can live with a limp. Your mind, however, is not designed to significantly deteriorate in your youth. When it does so, it usually signals the imminence of death.”
Where I take issue with the tone of his post is when Kelly compares this to Dave Scatchard’s situation and recent retirement. He says doctors forced Scatchard out and that he retired unwillingly. Of course he retired unwillingly, this is the sport he loves and has dedicated his life to. He said himself on Twitter that he felt he had a few years left. Claiming that doctors forced him to retire is silly. The doctors told him the potential risks and told him it was dangerous for him to return to the ice. Scatchard could certainly have attempted to return, but he made his choice to retire. Crosby is not in the same situation. He’s had one confirmed concussion, not several like Scatchard. I guarantee he’s got the best doctors the Penguins can find working with him and that they would tell him if it was unsafe to return to the ice. At that point, it is up to Sidney whether or not to return and risk himself. There’s no proof that one concussion causes degenerative brain issues. Several concussions certainly do, but people are concussed all the time, get healthy and continue on with their normal life, both in and out of sports.
What this post should have been about is the NHL’s blatant ignorance of the prevalence of brain injuries in their sport. It should have been about the NHL banning all headshots for the good of the athletes, bitching old-timers be damned. It should have been about the amazing respect and patience the Penguins organization has had with Crosby, letting him heal properly, where other poorly run organizations could have thrust him back into action. It should have been about helping further research into brain damage from concussions, research into new helmet designs to help reduce the blunt impact to the head, rule changes to protect the players and a million other things. Instead we got a post from a writer speculating about Crosby’s ambitions, condition and desires.
Just stop. Stop the speculation and instead focus your energy on getting the NHL to change for the safety of the athletes that entertain and amaze us on a daily basis.