Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Neuvirth Epitome of Problem with Head Injuries

Hits to the head have been a hot topic in both the NHL and NFL for some time now.  Everyone has seen the research and potential effects.  NFLer, for example, have an average life expectancy of just 55 years old (and 52 for linemen).  The problem isn’t that life-or-death for most NHLers yet, but new studies are coming out implying fighters have the same kind of brain damage as NFL linemen.

The problem in both sports isn’t a judicial one.  Rules don’t necessarily need to be changed or suspensions handed down.  It needs to begin and end with respect, and it has to begin and end with the players themselves.  Part of the problem was evidenced tonight with Washington Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

Early in the first period in the Caps game against the Lightning, Neuvirth took a puck to the facemask.  The force of the puck sent his mask flying, and Neuvirth needed to go to his backup.  He continued playing like everything was fine.

However, when the second period began, we didn’t see Michal Neuvirth between the pipes.  Instead we saw AHL call-up Braden Holtby.  When VERSUS asked Bruce Boudreau during the second period whether or not Neuvirth’s absence had to do with the shot he took to the head, Boudreau had a one-word answer, “Yes.”

The response on Twitter was immediate and swift.  Everyone was praising Neuvirth, applauding his courage and toughness, saying things like “Way to tough I out.”  This is the excepted hockey culture.  And this is why Sidney Crosby has yet to play a full game since the Winter Classic.

Neuvirth shouldn’t have toughed it out.  He shouldn’t have tried to power through and shouldn’t have tried to be “courageous.”  The minute he felt a little off, he should have removed himself from the game.  No questions asked, no hesitations; straight to the locker room.

Playing through head injuries is one of the worst possible things one can do.  When caught soon enough, the rest and recovery time can be cut down significantly if the player doesn’t return to action.  The flip side is you have a situation like Crosby’s, where he thought he could play through it, figured out too late he couldn’t, and he hasn’t done anything but extremely light workouts in two months.

This “I’m tough enough to play through this” mentality in both sports is what is really doing the damage.  They need to stop thinking its ok.  Fans need to stop encouraging it.  The players think they can play because they play a little dazed all the time after numerous hits.  What they either don’t comprehend or don’t care about it that every time they are dazed, there is damage done to their brain.  The next time they get hit, it’s more damage done to their brain.  Decades later, you have a retired alcoholic, depressed NFLer with early onset Alzheimer’s and we all say “What a sad story.”

It’s not enough.  Saying it’s a sad situation after the fact isn’t enough.  Fans and media must not glorify the heroes.  If they are genuine in their claim that they want to see fewer injuries, they must stop praising players for playing through pain.

It must begin and end with the players and their respect for themselves.  Until that culture changes, we will continue to see stupidity (falsely labeled as courage) and we will continue to see very preventable head injuries.  The puck (and ball) is in your court.

UPDATE: It appears as though Neuvirth was removed from the game not because of a head injury, but because a piece of plastic from his helmet got caught in his eye.  I've decided this is irrelevant and it still supports my point, but in the interest of full disclosure, there it is.


  1. It matters the kind of head injury. From what I've heard, Neuvirth wasn't concussed, he had a fragment of metal break off his mask and get stuck in his eye. It was removed over the intermission.

  2. Yes, that's what I heard after too so I updated the bottom. I still believe it supports my point that players need to have more respect for themselves and remove themselves from the game. I'm not completely sold that's what happened though, it just sounds too weird.

  3. Knowing the Caps and their policy towards injuries (deny, defuse, and outrigh lie) I have my doubts about "a piece of metal in his eye." If Neuvy could have finished the period, he could have finished the game once it had been removed.