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This article was published 30/11/2018 (667 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was a bad look for Dustin Byfuglien: clearly dazed and confused after taking the worst of a big hit Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the big Winnipeg Jets defenceman was rubber-legged and obviously out of sorts as he tried to make his way back to the bench with the help of some teammates.
And it was an even worse look for the NHL when, just a few minutes later, Byfuglien reappeared on the ice and was allowed to resume his normal activities logging heavy minutes patrolling the blue-line.
Then, less than 24 hours later and after being held out of practice as a "precaution," Byfuglien reportedly began experiencing concussion symptoms.
Finally, another day later after missing his team’s next game, came word that Byfuglien was officially out with a head injury and placed on injured reserve.
This is what passes for concussion protocol these days? From a league that’s already come under fire for the way it’s previously handled such injuries and claims to take the issue seriously?
Look, there’s no suggestion here the Jets did anything nefarious. Byfuglien was immediately pulled into the so-called quiet room for an "acute evaluation" after his collision with 6-7, 255-pound Jamie Oleksiak in which Byfuglien appeared to take a helmet to the chin area on impact. You can see from video that Byfuglien didn’t really want to go anywhere, muttering a few choice words to the trainer who delivered the news.
"The most important thing here is the coach doesn’t make that decision. That’s not me taking off the responsibility. I’ve got full faith in the process, and we’ll follow it. Nothing happened after. He played fine. You can read his lips on the way off the bench to go get spotted, he’s clearly not happy about having to go leave the game. Felt fine after. I’m 100 per cent fine with it, I really am," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said when pressed on the issue.
Assuming the Jets handled this by the book, then, how exactly Byfuglien passed the base-line concussion test issued by a team physician that allowed him back into the game should be the subject of all kinds of league scrutiny.
How does a player who exhibited such obvious signs of distress get the green light to return to action so soon?
You don’t have to be a doctor or own a medical degree to realize something was seriously wrong.
And if the bar is so low that a player who experienced this kind of trauma can simply shake it off, answer a few questions correctly and pass with flying colours, something needs to change. Especially when all the science tells us that concussion symptoms don’t always develop immediately.
"The most important thing is that it’s not subjective, that we can say clearly he’s got a concussion so he shouldn’t come back in the game. Put him through the system and trust in it," Maurice said of the testing Byfuglien went through.
"Are you asking for perfection? That happens at the hospital every day. It’s the best test we have, and the best system we have. I have complete faith in it."
Well, that makes one of us. Because it can now be stated, unequivocally, that Byfuglien played the rest of that game Tuesday night with a damaged brain.
And from all we now know about concussions, a second blow to his head could have been catastrophic. Just look up "second-impact syndrome."
Most of us who might walk away from a hospital, to use Maurice’s analogy, wouldn’t be going right back into a full-contact, high-speed sport being played at the highest level, as Byfuglien did.
There really are only two scenarios to explain what happened. Either Byfuglien faked his way through the testing and downplayed his symptoms, or he was completely honest and the concussion-protocol test is a farce.
Byfuglien certainly wouldn’t be the first professional athlete to try to cheat the system. But if that’s the case, then clearly a more stringent process is required. Allowing a player — especially one already in a vulnerable state — to essentially perform a self-diagnosis is a dangerous game, one that’s gone on far too long in sports.
Jets forward Andrew Copp had an interesting take Friday about his own most recent concussion, suffered a week ago in Minnesota. Just 24, it’s already the third one of his career. Honesty, he said, really is the best policy.
"You want to make real sure that all of the symptoms are gone and that you’re being completely honest with the doctors and doing the (baseline) tests to the best of your ability, not only now but at the beginning of the year so that you have a baseline, so they know where your brain is capable of processing at," said Copp.
"Taking those seriously is honestly a really important thing."
Byfuglien’s case would be Exhibit A that changes are needed, which is ironic since the NHL just avoided a civil trial by reaching a US$18.9-million settlement with more than 300 retired players who sued the league, alleging they NHL was negligent about the risks of head injuries while playing. Each player who opts in would receive US$22,000 and could be eligible for up to US$75,000 in medical treatment.
The NHL has made no comment about the recent settlement, deferring that until after the 75 day "opt-in" period expires. Nor have they made any public comments about what happened with Byfuglien, although a source says a thorough review of the incident is underway.
On an important topic that cries out for an explanation, that silence is speaking volumes. It’s enough to leave you shaking your head.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Friday, November 30, 2018 at 8:24 PM CST: updates photo placement
8:55 PM: Adds opinion tag to story
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