Is the NHL finally admitting its concussion problem?

The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one in the first place.

We laid out our hopes for the NHL to address concussions at the end of last season. So how is the league doing on its responsibility to protect its players? It's making progress — and making us hopeful.


As the season opens this week, concussions have been all over NHL news.

Of course it’s no small news when you’re talking about Sidney Crosby, the best player in the world. In a practice last Friday, days before the Penguins' season opener against the Washington Capitals, Crosby suffered a concussion. Again. And for now, he’s benched indefinitely.

That may not bode well for the Pens, but for the sake of Crosby’s health and safety, it’s a good thing that the team is being cautious.

But how can the league keep protecting our favorite players from long-term injury? Thankfully the NHL took another step this week by announcing its Central League Spotters program. This not only strengthens its concussion protocol by increasing fines for teams who try to play players suspected of suffering a concussion. But the big news is that the on-ice officials are now deputized to pull players off the ice and enforce the concussion protocol.

The truth is, hockey can be dangerous — and the NHL may be coming around to admitting it. But not without twisting its arm.

Dozens of former NHL players are suing the NHL for mishandling concussion treatments and covering up the long-term effects of brain injuries. One of the players involved in the lawsuit is former defensemen Dale Purinton — and he’s fed up with the NHL’s inaction. So much so that he’s taken the issue straight to Congress. He met with several members of Congress in a recent visit to Washington to elevate the issue of the long-term effects of brain injuries for NHL players.

Sadly, “brain injury” doesn’t fully describe the reality. Purinton’s wife describes her situation of taking care of her husband as if she had a fourth child. After leaving the league in 2008, his life led to alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, and severe memory loss. The long-term effects on repeated concussions can be grim. Leagues need to take them seriously.

The NFL has acknowledged that concussions can lead to CTE, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has denied the link. If a league can’t admit the reality of its sport and its serious negative impacts on its players, the future of that sport is in trouble.

Maybe with its improved Central Spotters Program, the NHL is taking that crucial step to admitting it has a problem.

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