Don’t expect clarity any time soon on the NHL injury front.
One of the more frustrating aspects for fans of the NHL, particularly at Stanley Cup playoff time, is the secrecy with which injuries are treated by most teams around the league. Even though a player may have been obviously slashed on the hand and suffers a likely bone break, all we’re told is that he suffered an “upper body injury”, or if his knee gets mangled by a low hit, it’s termed “lower body”. This season, the Detroit Red Wings even gave us a “middle body” injury to ponder.
Concussions are often the most-secretive of hurts, especially in the early days as a team tries to get an idea of whether a player will be out for just a few days, or a longer, indeterminate amount of time.
While many observers have criticized the policy introduced in 2008, or gone on end-runs around a team to determine a player’s injury status, the defense from the league’s standpoint has been one of player safety and fair play. If other teams know details of opponent’s injuries, they can take advantage of them.
In the wake of the NFL’s bounty scandal, that defense can now be considered lock-tight.
You can find the audio of Gregg Williams instructing his New Orleans Saints players to deliberately target various opponents and their injuries for yourself, but here are a few specific examples, as detailed by Yahoo! Sports’ Mike Silver:
- “We need to find out in the first two series of the game, the little wide receiver, No. 10, about his concussion,” Williams said to the Saints’ defenders. “We need to [expletive] put a lick on him, move him to decide. He needs to decide.”
- “We need to decide whether Crabtree wants to be a fake-ass prima donna or he wants to be a tough guy. We need to find that out, and he becomes human when you [expletive] take out that outside ACL.”
- “We need to decide on how many times we can meet Frank Gore’s head. We need to decide how many times we can bull rush and we can [expletive] clip Vernon Davis’ ankles over the pile …
For skeptics who wondered whether professionals would really cross that boundary and specifically go after other players, well, you can’t really doubt that any longer.
Another argument could be made that the lack of public disclosure gives a false sense of security, because with the ubiquity of TV coverage and multiple camera angles, injuries are well-known throughout the league, even if they’re not disclosed to the media. Even though that may be the case, there are numerous injuries which a team could keep secret – those suffered in practice or off-ice training, for example, or other health issues that aren’t caught in game action (illness, infections, etc.).
The bottom line here is that if such an episode happened in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, then it could just as well occur in the NHL. With competitive pressure ratcheting up ever higher, and millions of dollars hanging in the balance during the playoffs, it is almost inevitable that a few individuals will push the envelope and do whatever it takes to win.
Would you expect anything less?