How many players must be injured before the NHL takes the steps necessary to protect their players (and referees) from a broken face? In the wake of this year's crop of injuries to stars Marc Staal and Sidney Crosby, the lack of response has been staggering. A few news outlets have brought the age-old debate to the forefront, but the fires of outrage die down quickly. Does the fault lie with the NHL for not mandating facial protection, or do the players bear responsibility for preferring an obstructed view of the game?
The answer lies somewhere in between, with both parties partly on the hook for the current state of affairs. Here is an example of a few player responses from an article By Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times:
“I still think guys should have the choice,” said Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, who wears a visor. “If they’re willing to take the risk, then they’ve got to deal with it if they do get hurt. But it’s a thing that’s been around for so long, not even wearing helmets at one point, you’ve got to let guys have a little bit of freedom.”The crux of this issue lies in the realm of personal responsibility. Some players feel that the choice is theirs alone. Taking a puck to the face is a relatively rare, so an individual player who prefers visibility may downplay the potential dangers. If he does not feel comfortable wearing the visor, he may not be able to play at an optimal level. This way of thinking leads to negative association, rendering the discussion hostile when it should be compassionate. How can this argument be transformed into a cordial discussion, with all parties taken into account and everyone's voice heard?
“I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d see them grandfather in some kind of visor rule and make it mandatory for everyone to wear a visor,” said Caps NHLPA representative Jason Chimera, who doesn’t wear a visor in the NHL but has in Europe and in international play. “It’s a personal choice; I’ve always had the personal choice to do it.”
It must come from the players, the fans, and the management. The players must band together to protect each other, as none of these injuries results from an intentional foul but instead result from the inevitable deflection.The older players have raised the concern that their many visor-less years on the ice have made the transition almost impossible. The younger players are far more willing to wear visors, partly due to their involvement in other organizations (or youth hockey) where such protection is mandated. Given enough time, this transition may occur naturally. In the interim period, however, more and more players are going to suffer potentially game-ending injuries.
This topic deserves much more attention than it has received thus far. Sidney Crosby's broken jaw has changed debate considerably. The young star of the Pittsburgh Penguins is also the best paid athlete in the NHL, bringing in an average salary of eight-point-seven million along with an additional four million in endorsements. Sidney has been faced with a couple of difficult years following his Stanley Cup victory and subsequent Olympic gold medal. The possibility of an early retirement hovered over Sidney throughout his year recuperating from the concussion he suffered at the Winter Classic. Although his most recent injury was not accompanied by a loss of consciousness, the risk of concussion was certainly present. Are these injuries simply part of the risk of playing the game, or are these accidents avoidable through improved protective hardware?
The spouses, parents, friends, and family of players have long voiced their concerns. The NHL seems to side with mandated facial protection. How long will it take for these forces to cooperate towards the betterment of the sport? I do not know the answer to this question, but I certainly hope it will be soon.