The NHL Gets Smart About Player Safety

15 Oct

As players in the National Hockey league become bigger, stronger, and faster, the game has in turn become far more dangerous. Concussions have become an increasingly prevalent issue across sports. Hockey has suffered especially, losing star player Sidney Crosby for half the season due to post-concussion symptoms. With the NHL resurging in popularity, the absence of one of their most recognizable players was unacceptable. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has recognized this threat and spent significant time in the off-season revamping the league’s policy banning most hits to the head. Such a policy required careful explanation to both players and fans in order to preserve the integrity of the game.

New Leadership

Bettman knew that for this transition to go smoothly, the individual selected as the new Head of Discipline had to be someone both respected by the players and willing to take the steps to improve player safety. With these criteria, the commissioner chose former player and current NHL Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan for the job. Shanahan has wasted no time in his new position, suspending nine players for a total of 31 games by the end of the first week of the season for infractions of the revised rule.

Effective Communication

In the previous era of NHL discipline, players were often responded to suspensions with derision and skepticism, partially because the man in charge was the father of a current player. Shanahan’s tenure as head of discipline has fared much better, mainly due to his transparency with the players and fans. Shanahan makes his decisions based on both the severity of the infraction and whether the offender has any previous transgressions. He then posts a video both on the NHL website and on Twitter explaining why the play was illegal. This method has left players with less animosity towards the process and a greater understanding of their transgression.

Moving Forward

With the NBA lockout looming, the NHL has the chance to move into the sports limelight. By effectively communicating the new rule regarding hits to the head to the league, Bettman and Shanahan have taken a step to ensure their superstars will be able to play when the league needs them most.

by David Gamber

“Shanahan set for crackdown on NHL rule breakers.” The Wall Street Journal. 2011. 13 October, 2011. <http://online.wsj.com/article/AP59cae3ac 6c664c668f3fb6d2f7747d97.html?KEYWORDS=nhl>.

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