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We don't really care about NHL concussions, and that needs to change

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About a week and a half ago, Ryan Lambert of Yahoo!'s Puck Daddy wrote a story about Marc-Andre Bourdon's concussion. We linked the original Philadelphia Daily News report about that concussion -- and Bourdon's successful attempt at hiding it -- in our Morning Fly By on April 10.

In a nutshell, if you missed this whole thing: Bourdon suffered a concussion with the Flyers in February but failed to tell team doctors. He was afraid of losing his spot on the roster, so instead of sitting out, he decided to keep playing with what could have been a serious brain injury. He didn't tell the organization about the concussion until he was sent down to the Phantoms several weeks later.

It was a scary story, in which Bourdon said things like this:

"But I didn't want to be one of those guys that [the Flyers] thought I was just trying to milk a paycheck," Bourdon explained. "So, when I got [sent down to Adirondack], I just asked for some time off. I didn't know what else to do."

"I guess if I had known they were going to make [the Kubina and Grossmann trades], I would have said something about it beforehand," Bourdon said. "But when they did, I didn't make a big deal out of it."

Yeah, awful. This seems like the sort of thing we should have written about, and Lambert rightfully called us out for not doing so in his PD post.

It was on Deadspin, and it was in the Philadelphia Daily News. And that's it. Not mentioned here on Puck Daddy, until now, and only discussed in passing as a link on Broad Street Hockey, which has the most comprehensive Flyers coverage everywhere (the first comment on the issue comes pretty deep in that post opens by saying the poster "respects" Bourdon for trying to play through it).

And it would be one thing if it was an isolated incident. You could pass it off as one player doing it one time for noble enough reasons (as far as he's concerned), or one organization. But it's not.

We'll take the compliment, but we'll also take the criticism. It's fair criticism. We absolutely should have mentioned this story here with more than just the eighth bullet point in a 13-bullet-long Morning Fly By.

I think the fact that we didn't mention it just goes to show how awful the NHL's concussion culture is right now, which was the basis of Lambert's post back on April 13. I read probably 95 percent of the Flyers stories written, as does Geoff, and when I read Seravalli's original story, you know what my reaction was?

Oh, okay. That sounds about right. *close story, move on with the day*

That was the extent of it. I thought nothing of this story. It made sense to me. It didn't seem out of the realm of possibility, nor did it seem within the realm of absurdity. It's just one of those things you find interesting, and you assume it happens all the time. It doesn't make you blink.

It should make us blink. As Lambert said in his Puck Daddy column, this should have been a major, major news story -- if not nationally than certainly amongst us locally. A member of the Philadelphia Flyers hid a concussion from the team, and the only story written about it ended with the head coach talking about that player's "guts."

We get outraged when Henrik Zetterberg's head is slammed into the glass WWE-style by Shea Weber. We get outraged when James Neal targets Claude Giroux's head with a flying elbow. We want the NHL to crack down hard in an attempt to protect players from others.

But there's no outrage when a player suffers a head injury and fails to take the necessary steps to protect himself. That's proof, even if it may be subconscious, that we really don't care about concussion safety one bit. Fans don't care, players don't care, teams don't care, the league doesn't care. It needs to change.

So how can it change?

The Quiet Room idea seemed like a nice solution -- when players take a hit to the head, regardless of the severity, they must retreat to the locker room and get examined by a doctor. But it doesn't work. In the first round of this year's playoffs, we've seen Mike Smith remain in the game after taking a shoulder to the head, and we saw Giroux remain in Game 3 after, well, this:


Giroux turned out to be fine (as far as we all know) but holy shit, man. That was terrifying. Don't you think it would have been smart for him -- a guy who's already missed time this year with a concussion -- to head back to the locker room for a bit? You know, just as a precaution? Maybe get examined by a doctor?

Nope. Didn't happen. That could be for any reason. Maybe Giroux said he was fine. Maybe the team didn't want to risk losing their best player after failing a concussion test, so they just didn't test him at all. But regardless of the reason, it's time to take this decision out of the hands of those who currently hold it.

Don't let players be the judge of their own health. Don't let coaches or team trainers be the judge. Don't even let team doctors be the judge. Players don't want to leave the game under any circumstance, and coaches don't want to lose their players under any circumstance. Team trainers and team doctors are under the employ of the team.

Here's a solution: At each NHL game, there should be an independent neurologist in attendance, provided by the league. He should watch the game, and when something like this happens -- a head shot or possible head injury of any kind -- he should immediately order that player to the locker room. No questions asked. His decision is final, and he should always operate under the motto of "better safe than sorry."

Once in the locker room, that neurologist should test the player. They should use every tool at their disposal to determine whether or not that player has a concussion, and if he does, he should be forced to sit out until he passes standard concussion tests.

We pretend to care about concussions. It's time we put our words and our rhetoric into action.