Growing up, one of my favorite hockey players was Brendan Shanahan. He was a great NHL player who won 3 Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After retiring from playing in 2009, Shanahan has been heavily involved in the day-to-day on-ice operations of the NHL. When he was an active NHL player, Shanahan was very involved in player safety in the NHL Players Association (NHLPA is the players’ union). On June 1, 2011 Shanahan became the NHL’s new league disciplinarian, giving him authority on making the final call on suspensions for illegal hits in hockey. With this role, he has put concussion awareness in the spotlight on social media.
WHY THE SUDDEN CHANGE?
In the past 2-3 years, the number of concussion related injuries have plagued the league with inconsistent enforcement. For example, this hit was a suspension-worthy offense:
That hit resulted in a 4-game suspension. The hit in the video below from 2009, resulted in no suspension.
The need for consistency, and safety is definitely needed. The concern had been circulating most hockey blogs and op-eds surrounding Colin Campbell, the former disciplinarian. Many of the fans and management hinted towards Campbell being biased in his decisions as well as inconsistent. It also seemed as if not only were the players and coaches concerned, but the fans as well.
USING SOCIAL MEDIA
In the off-season the NHL added Rule 48, which forbids most contact to the head. In addition to the rule changes, Brendan Shanahan has decided to make a video explaining each decision and non-decision that he makes as the season goes along. In the past, the NHL would send out a press-notice of the specifics. During this pre-season he has released quite a few of these videos. Here’s an example of one of these videos:
These videos are already being praised by the fans and media. It has really put a concrete explanation to these infractions.
HOW THE GAME WILL BENEFIT
The fans, the players, coaches, and team management will have clear definitions and video that surrounds key calls for the NHL that may or may not be suspension-worthy. It also increases the transparency for suspensions which were previously unclear at times. On Twitter where a lot of discussion and rumoring occurs about the NHL, there will be clear rulings and information available where before there was a lot more speculation and misinformation being spread. I think the NHL has made the right move here, and is going to make things very clear.
It also is a way that social media can be used to communicate important ideas when it comes to concussion reduction. Doctors, nurses, various league officials, fans and players are all becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of concussions and are seeking ways to decrease their occurrence. It may also help that a slew of professional athletes in the major sports are not playing currently due to their head-related injuries. Peyton Manning (NFL), Sidney Crosby (NHL), and Marc Staal (NHL) are just a few of these athletes currently sitting out due to head injuries. Especially in the NHL, many careers have been cut short due to head injuries. If anything, social media can help solicit external solutions for decision-making for sports leagues and their woes with head injuries. It also signals to everyone that concussions are a serious problem that is being approached in a serious manner.
[EDIT 10/5/2011 12:40pm] Today, the NHL Safety Committee released a video of what constitutes clean hits and good decisions made by players. For those of you who read this and are wondering what a clean hit in the NHL should be, watch this video: