It’s Sad, But Crosby Should Consider Retirement

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Dec. 14) – Sidney Crosby and Eric Lindros are seperated by a lone jersey digit and their National Hockey League careers could be intertwined by an even slighter margin.

Though it is terribly disheartening, No. 87 seems to be haunted by the path that No. 88 stumbled upon after his abbreviated juncture atop the hockey world. The prime differences are two-fold: Lindros, despite a premature retirement forced by repeated head trauma, at least spent the better part of a decade as one of the game’s dominant figures. Crosby was accorded less than half that time before the inescapable concussion menace disrupted a career that may have paralleled other legends of the sport; to these eyes, only Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux could dominate a game in a manner similar to the pride of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

Complicating immediate matters, yet offering improved prognoses for the future, is the emergent understanding of sports-related head trauma and its accumulative peril – information that was not so readily available to Lindros at the height of his battle, but is now crystal-clear at the most basic level: concussions can only be added to, not subtracted from. We have learned that susceptibility to bruising of the brain increases alarmingly and exponentially with each incidence – the element less understood, but grievously foreboding, is the manner in which repeated head trauma may sacrifice quality of life in later years.

From all indications, Crosby – at the tender age of 24 – is rapidly approaching that fork in the road: having to choose between the mounting hazard of placing his damaged brain in harm’s way and the gut-wrenching specter of leaving well-enough alone, which would preclude further involvement as a player. At our deepest understanding, none of us could possibly imagine the emotional turmoil of being confronted by such an option. Crosby spent the bulk of his youth – without a shred of anonymity – building toward what even Gretzky predicted to be one of the great hockey careers of all time. The slightest notion of having to walk away so prematurely must be appalling to the Penguins’ star, but his viable alternatives are limited.

It is inevitable that Crosby will sustain further head trauma if he continues playing. Many journalists are quick to blame the NHL for all that ails, without posing practical solutions – likely because there aren’t any. If there were an easy answer, you have to think that someone; somewhere would be all over it by now. As it stands, professional hockey players in the 21st century cannot possibly avoid the force of impact that leads to concussion. Crosby’s latest set-back occurred in a mid-ice collision with his own line-mate, Chris Kunitz, at the Consol Energy Center last week. If players on the same team cannot avoid one another, how is it possible for opponents in a competitive environment – moving at a high rate of speed – to circumvent such peril?

If the NHL should be blamed for anything, it’s a lack of foresight. With the exception of Madison Square Garden (New York); the Nassau Coliseum (Long Island); Rexall Place (Edmonton); Joe Louis Arena (Detroit) and the Scotiabank Saddledome (Calgary), all league facilities have been built post-1993; a number of them in the new millennium. This provided NHL owners a glowing opportunity to expand the playing surface commensurate with the evolution of today’s bigger, faster athlete; the ever-increasing science of training and nutrition, and the modernization of equipment worn beneath the uniform. Instead, and owing to the insatiable pursuit of revenue, we have the equivalent of caged animals violently crashing into one another on generally the same-sized playing field as in the 1960s and ’70s. With a second referee, there’s an additional person on the ice today. What real chance of avoiding head trauma to these guys have?

NO ONE WANTS THIS TO END. BUT, SHOULD IT CONTINUE?

As it pertains to Crosby, there must be terribly conflicting elements. No one with the slightest affection for hockey wants to see his career terminated. The financial implications of such an outcome are mind-boggling at both the club and league level. As a result, Crosby isn’t likely receiving impartial or dispassionate advice.

A doctor I visited on Wednesday with abundant interest in hockey, though obviously no involvement in Crosby’s care, had this to say: “I find it impossible to believe that the medical personnel entrusted with Crosby’s concussion rehab – particularly those independent of the Pittsburgh organization – were comfortable with him returning to the ice this season. Even to someone like myself, with no direct knowledge of his medical care, it seemed frought with risk. But, I understand that additional pressure comes to bear on people that are either compensated – or chosen – by professional sports teams to make medical determinations. I’m not convinced those conclusions are solely in the best interest of the athlete.”

As always, the final call in any medical decision rests with the individual involved. I have no idea whether Crosby – in light of his current set-back – has considered, or been advised, to hang up his skates, though the notion of either is hardly implausible. During a press conference prior to his initial comeback, Crosby was asked that very question and he returned a gaze that suggested the inquisitor had just arrived from the planet Neptune. Whether Sid the Kid is more willing to consider long-term implications today is known only to him, and perhaps to those in his tightest circle.

By any reasonable measure, though, we can all come to the same unhappy conclusion: only retirement will ensure that No. 87 can live normally and fruitfully beyond his playing days.

21 comments on “It’s Sad, But Crosby Should Consider Retirement

  1. Brilliant article! I think what should be brought more to the forefront should be the need for a bigger ice surface…..the one solution that will never happen. The game is the fastest it’s ever been but with less and less room to move.

  2. After suffering such an injury, not too many have come back to play and enjoyed a long career without major setbacks. In fact, I can’t really think of 1 notable NHLer, but I’m no expert. Just a thought.

  3. Hi Howard,

    I have to agree with you, and for people of my generation it’s all the more disappointing. I’m a 90’s baby so I wasn’t quite old enough to appreciate Gretzky or Lemieux, but Crosby was supposed to be my generations Great One. It’s sad that even if he doesn’t leave the game now, we can be almost certain that we won’t be around for another decade like we would of loved to see, and there is no other player in the game right now that comes close to matching his skill set.

    I’d love for you to check out my blog at beatingthebuzzer.com, where I specifically discuss this issue as it pertains to my generation.

    Keep up the great work and if you get a chance to look at my site let me know what you think!

    1. First off, I don’t hate Berger. I aclaulty like him when he sticks to reporting. I have exchanged several e-mails with him and although we don’t always agree the e-mail exchanges have been cordial and generally based in facts.But this is one area where I really disagree with Howard and I disagree with his whole premise that so long as Leaf fans continue to support the team the team will never win a Stanley Cup because the team is only interested in pocketing big profits.I disagree with this premise because:1. Winning is good for business.2. Boston Red Sox fans didn’t have to stop showing up before they won a World Championship.3. If the Leafs only cared about profits why would they have spent so much money on a high priced coach and will spend so much money on a high priced GM when they could have kept JFJ and Paul Maurice on for probably substantially less than Ron Wilson makes himself.4. MLSE has shown they have no problem spending big bucks to get a premier GM for the Raptors.Howard Berger, and others, love to gravitate to the whole have not won since 1967 story but honestly, it is completely irrelevant. There have been several ownership changes since then and Berger really should only be evaluating the current ownership group. The 41 year thing is only used by media and anti-Leaf people to get Leaf fans riled up. Negativity sells and this is nothing more than that.As this team is owned in part by CTV, who owns TSN, and the Globe and Mail, do you really think because Berger is one of the few repeatedly making these statements that he is wrong? Or maybe, unlike the others, he is in fact a true fan, not a sycophant.He is not the only one making these statements nor do I think he is a true fan. He makes these statements because it generates controversy which generates readers, viewers and listeners. That is his job. Without readers, viewers and listeners he is out of a job. I understand why he does it, but it does not make it right or fair nor is it good reporting and journalism.

  4. Good column. What do you think the chances are that, assuming Crosby doesn’t come back 100% for any length of time this season, that the Penguins will be looking to dump that 10 million dollar albatross around their neck? For a team with so many injuries, they seem to have no qualms about paying tons of money for Crosby to hang out on the beach with his family.

    And to the whiny, indignant commentors: Funny that I don’t remember any Pens fans crying for ‘justice’ when Matt Cooke ended Savard’s career, and tried to end at least half-a-dozen others. As far as I’m concerned, the Penguins fan base (and Lemieux) have no right to criticize ANYONE about dirty play, or the league on concussions when they continue to pay someone like Cooke. What goes around comes around… maybe next time, you won’t only oppose injurious play when it’s your star that goes down. Hypocrites.

    1. I think it’s reasonable to expect that sentiment out of Pittsburgh on this matter would be different than from other places. No one WANTS to see Crosby retire at 24: either forcefully or voluntarily. Multiply that 1,000-fold in Steel City USA.

  5. It seems to me that while the NHL is not directly responsible, they certainly own some culpability. I’m not going to pretend the game is not better since the red line was removed and the interference minimized, but not much different than when the speed limit was raised, there were casualties. I am glad that they seem to be taking the appropriate approach to correcting the problem, both at the league and club level, in holding the players to a much higher level of care when dealing with potential brain injuries.

  6. Hey Howard,

    Do you know if there is any empirical evidence which would suggest a larger ice surface would lessen the likelihood of the type of impacts we see in NHL rinks today?

    Any statistics on injuries in general with IIHF sanctioned rinks?

    Concussion seems to be on the tips of many close to the league. Status of Crosby reminds me of Eric’s younger brother Brett Lindros, I believe he played 2-3 years before retiring BC of concussions.

    Keep up the great work. Would love to hear you host a post Leafs game radio show on 1050, if they had the chutzpah to put you on.

    Best,

    E

    1. No, I don’t have numbers, but it seems to make common sense, doesn’t it? Though other factors are at work, the incidence of head trauma is not nearly as alarming in European hockey. Thanks for your kind words.

  7. I would so hate to see Crosby stop his career short, and if that does happen, I want Betman, the NHL and those idiot players who caused this to Sidney to be scrutinized by the fans forever. Seriously, if people are not mad at these idiot players who knocked Crosby and possibly putting him out of hockey, I don’t know what can get you mad?

    And if he does go on and retire at such an early age, Betman and the NHL front office should all resign and bring in new staff that will radically change and remove the culture of violence from the game. Enough is enough.

    And finally, I take comfort in one thing if Crosby does retire: although only 24, he has won virtually everything that there is to win. Really, he has, and that is testament to the great player he is.

    keep up the great work Howard (too bad we don’t hear you on radio anymore)

    p.s: if possible, it would make it easier if your blog font was in black!

    1. Wow, that’s quite an overreaction. Concussions and other injuries are unavoidable in all sports. You could ban all physical contact, impose a 2 mile per hour on-ice speed limit and wrap the players in bubble wrap and they would still find a way to get injured. Athletes like Sidney Crosby know the risks of playing a contact sport for a living and are rewarded handsomely for doing so.

      There is only one way to avoid concussions in hockey, and that is to ban hockey all together. If you want to get on your high horse and blame people for a fluke injury like Crosby colliding with his own teammate then maybe you should take a look in the mirror and blame yourself for supporting a sport where concussions are unavoidable.

        1. I agree 100% with you, Howard. For his sake alone, he should retire. However if anyone holds out hopes that this, or any other NHL injury, will actually change the game in any fundamental way is dreaming. Bring on the next superstar. Hopefully Sid’s well insured; his future earnings in the NHL were in the hundreds of millions, and with the personality of a grapefruit, he ain’t the heir-apparent to Don Cherry.

          1. Andy: I’m not certain the NHL hasn’t max’d out its ability to control the head-trauma epidemic. Strict rules have been put into place and referees are dilligently applying them. Gary Betmman is often criticized for his comments on the issue, but I think it’s important to remember that the Commish refrains from venturing beyond legal-speak in such situations. Whether or not you like him, it’s impossible to think Bettman isn’t privately aghast over the growing list of concussion victims, which now includes Claude Giroux.

          2. Thank God Crosby isn’t the heir apparent to Don Cherry. The world doesn’t need another blowhard who’s too stupid to realize how big a joke he is. Canadians are such mild-manner people, is DC their secret, sinful delight? I don’t get it.

            “For his sake alone”, really? You’ve carefully considered all the pro’s and con’s. You’ve received all the briefing, read all the reports? Thought about what it must be like to be Sid, (as if you could)? You’ve done all that work, spent agonizing hours debating internally to leave your sage advice to Crosby as a comment on a blog. I wouldn’t presume to tell Sid what to do any more than I would tell you what your next decision should be… although I’d recommend against supersizing it.

          3. Mark: You’ve gone a bit over the edge here. No person reading my blog, or a reaction to it, would reasonably assume we are discussing the Crosby issue based on anything more than the common, repetitive information from medical experts about head trauma and its accumulative risk. There is no possibility – or reason – for us to be a part of Crosby’s inner-circle; neither is it necessary in order to form an educated opinion. The head-trauma epidemic in hockey began long before No. 87 was victimized. Take a breath; pound a speed-bag for a few moments, and release your anger. Oh, and yeah, D.C. is a wonderful place. See my blog from last Friday if you don’t agree.

          4. Sorry Howard, I was referring to the comment left by Andy Frank. Not you. As a professional journalist you’re paid to write something. I have no problem with your article. The problem I had was with the ad hominem attack on SC’s personality and the self-righteous tone of “For his sake alone.”

            I don’t need a speed-bag for anger. I get it all out when I leave comments. The expression is my catharsis, I’m not cathected to this issue at all.

          5. I realized you were referring to Andy’s comment. And, you are far from the only one to utilize blog comments for catharsis. Difference is: on this site, you have to possess enough character to include your identity (email address). And for that rarity, I thank you.

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