Lip Service

In sunny Boca Raton, Florida, Gary Bettman became a teacher for the rest of us unwashed heathens and came to the rescue of all those lilly white players who keep getting their brains scrambled. Thank god for intelligent midgets like Bettman.

Speaking to reporters from the scene of the NHL GM meeting in Florida, Bettman first gave the media a lesson on the real causes of concussions in the league (hint: it has nothing to do with a 6’9″ giant taking your head in his palm and smashing it into a post,) then proceeded to outline an ambitious plan of action to address the issue. And, if any single one of you are stupid enough to believe his line of tripe, you should probably be watching another sport.

“There’s no one single thing causing concussions,” said Bettman. “There is no magic bullet to deal with this. I know that it’s an emotional, intense subject, particularly for our fans. We get it. But dealing with this issue is not something you can do whimsically or emotionally.”

Bettman followed this scolding with, “You really have to understand what’s going on.”

The fact that an arrogant little man like Bettman feels the need to lecture the media on the true understanding of what’s going on irks me enough, but I have to admit that at least a little of it is because I hate him with a passion burns to rival the hottest flames of Hell. With sponsors threatening to pull the plug, instead of realizing that maybe there is a little public outrage that needs to be addressed tactfully and with genuine concern, Bettman snottily proclaimed the NHL a great brand that would find other partners if those sponsors didn’t want their business. That’s arrogance and a complete disregard for the fans that pay his inflated paycheque.

At any rate, what did Professor Bettman have to teach us?

Apparently, concussions are just accidents. Oops. 26% are due to accidental collisions. 44% are due to legal hits. In fact, only 17% are caused by illegal hits. Who woulda thunk it?

So, let’s ponder this one a moment before we address the golden 5 step action plan proposed to deal with all these accidental brain scramblings.

The greatest single share of concussions are caused by hits that are considered legal. Legal means that the hit was not deemed something worthy of supplemental discipline. So, in the category of legal hits, which are a part of the category Bettman considers “accidental” concussions, we have hits that were not worthy of supplemental discipline like: Matt Cooke on Marc Savard, Mike Richards on David Booth, David Steckel on Sidney Crosby and Zdeno Chara on Max Pacioretty, to name a few. None of the perpetrators were suspended for their actions, despite the fact that the head was directly impacted by some portion of their body in the process of the hit, resulting in a concussion. Furthermore, since none of these hits involved a suspension, these offenders are not even considered offenders and as such are not more likely to receive punishment in the future under a multiple offender rule.

If these hits, resulting in serious injury, are not considered illegal, the question should by why they aren’t.

But, Bettman is proposing a cure to all that ails the league.

Step 1: A panel to address equipment reform.
I’m actually okay with this, in principle. I think that part of the problem with the league right now is that in making the game faster by reducing the clutch and grab that used to plague the play means that massive players with bullet-proof equipment are hitting players harder instead of slowing them up. First, hits are deemed more legal than hooking or grabbing. Second, if you know it isn’t going to hurt you because your equipment is like plate mail, you can really level some mallice at your opponent. So, I’m alright with the notion of taking a look at the equipment players wear and maybe scaling things back a little bit.

However, what this is also sending is the message that the problem is not the person wearing the gear, but the gear itself. Concussions are because of poor helmets, not because of head shots. Injury is because of harder padding, not because the grunt wearing it doesn’t give a shit whether the guy he crushes into the glass has his spine snapped. It’s obfuscating the responsibility for action from the individual perpetrating the action and placing the blame on gear. “Officer, I drove over that 4 year old because they made my car too fast, those Japanese rascals.”

Step 2: Revise current concussion protocol.
This is just plain stupid. Well, not the idea of caring for the victim better than they currently do. That’s a good idea. But, proposing this step as a means of addressing player safety is like saying we’re going to reduce the number of gunshot victims by making sure that when they’re shot we plug their wound faster. It’s not preventative, it’s reactive. It doesn’t address cause, it addresses effect. As such, it has very little to do with reducing concussions. You could argue that it is about making sure that a player with a concussion doesn’t continue playing and possibly aggravate the condition or receive an even greater injury, and there’s merit to that notion, but this issue at hand here is making sure that there isn’t a concussion caused in the first place. This doesn’t do anything to deal with that.

Step 3: Teams and Owners will be penalized along with repeat offenders for illegal hits.
Again, I am in agreement with the move, but it does absolutely nothing to deal with the real problem. As our wise and all-knowing Professor Bettman has advised us, 44% of concussions were caused by “legal” hits, like the ones I mentioned perpetrated by the paragons of fair play Matt Cooke, Mike Richards and Zdeno Chara. Nothing to address here, so the team and the owner are perfectly safe. And, if Chara breaks someone else’s neck and by some freak of justice actually gets suspended for it, he’s still not a repeat offender, so the Bruins are safe. This step doesn’t change anything one iota, unless you name is Gillies.

Step 4: Set the engineers loose on the arenas to make them safer.
Again, in principle it’s a good idea, but, like with the equipment, it’s meerely an attempt to shift the blame visibly from the actions of the players to the construction of the rink. Absolutely, the league should revise the way the glass and boards are constructed to ensure that they are as safe as possible. This should be the case, regardless of concussions. Pacioretty wouldn’t have been crushed into a post by Chara if the post hadn’t been there, despite the fact that the hit was dirty. But, this just reads like Bettman further justifying his senseless and uncaring declaration that Pacioretty’s injury was just a “tough hockey play” at a bad spot in the rink. It doesn’t address the real issue, but it addresses an issue that should definitely be addressed.

Step 5: Put together a panel to talk about concussions.
Read: more lip service unsupported by any real action because the league and it’s pompous commissioner doesn’t want to admit things are out of control.

Another proclaimed genius, Brian Burke, spoke on TSN to say that he too felt that the Chara hit was legal, and that the real issue at hand is addressing the rink design and making sure that guys with concussions don’t go back out on the ice. As he put it, we’re just so much more conscious of concussions and report them so much better now, that’s all. We don’t need to change the way the game is played, we just need to calm down.

When will this kind of stupidity and distraction stop?

If nearly half of all concussions are being caused by hits that are considered legal, this isn’t a sign that concussions are accidental, it’s a sign that the league should look at their rules and really decide if the rules properly penalize hits. Maybe the standard for what is considered a legal hit needs to be changed.

And, if players aren’t suspended because those hits aren’t considered illegal, I don’t care if the rules state that the coach’s daughter will be sacrificed to Beelzebub, her chastity is safe. Nobody is being suspended, so nobody is going to suffer a tougher supplementary punishment. There’s no deterrent if the rule is never invoked.

All that this garbage was that the little twerp Bettman spouted was lip service aimed at providing the media with the perception that the league was taking recent events seriously. None of it is substantial or constructive. But, that’s really a pretty good summary of the Bettman approach: ignore critics, ignore the fans, and just give good public relations and collect your cheque. To hell with the guys being sent to the hospital.

No Gary, you don’t “Get it.”

Step 6: Fire Gary Bettman before someone gets killed.

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