Just because the NHL made a decision, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Given past precedent in any number of areas, I understand why that may be difficult to grasp.
But the NHL suspended Dennis Wideman for 20 games yesterday. And it was right to so.
As you probably know by now, Wideman hit official Don Henderson from behind during a game against Nashville on 1/27. The NHLPA is appealing because Wideman claims it was accidental. This video http://nhl.nbcsports.com/2016/02/03/nhl-confirms-wideman-was-diagnosed-with-concussion-after-hitting-linesman-video/?ocid=Yahoo&partner=ya5nbcs suggests otherwise.
I’ll believe my own eyes before believing a guy trying to save his own backside (and his union reps).
The NHL rule book is pretty clear. Here is Rule 40.2: “Automatic Suspension – Category I – Any player who deliberately strikes an official and causes injury or who deliberately applies physical force in any manner against an official with intent to injure, or who in any manner attempts to injure an official shall be automatically suspended for not less than twenty (20) games.”
Based on the video, it seems like an open and shut decision that should go without controversy.
And that would be the case, if we didn’t live in a concussion crazed sports society. But we do. And it would be if any of us trusted the executives that run the leagues we care about. And we don’t.
Enter this piece from Travis Hughes of SBNation http://www.sbnation.com/nhl/2016/2/3/10906720/dennis-wideman-suspension-linesman-hit-nhl-flames. He sums up the three basic arguments most opponents of the suspension are making as the big, nasty, monolithic NHL picks on one of its poor, concussed, employees.
1. Wideman is a nice guy with no priors so…hey man, can’t a brother catch a break?!
2. The self serving league is just looking out for its best interests and trying to protect its relationship with the refs.
3. He was concussed. And “if the brain gets hit you must acquit.”
Think I’m oversimplifying? Read it. But (in best Samuel L. Jackson voice) allow me to retort.
1. It doesn’t matter if Wideman has a clean track record. As first offenses go, this is bad. He doesn’t deserve leniency. The rule clearly states automatic suspension for a hit of this nature. And there is no language requiring multiple offenses.
2. Is the NHL being self serving? Yeah! Good. It’s doing so with a logical purpose. Obviously the league is looking out for its best interests. Should it do otherwise? The officials’ union would’ve (and should’ve) cried bloody murder if Wideman was suspended a single game under twenty. Take another look at the video. If Henderson falls a few inches to his left, his chin hits the Nashville bench as he falls and his injuries could’ve been significantly worse. If I’m in charge of the league I’d rather battle one player on a basic appeal than every ref and their entire union.
3. The pity party over Wideman being concussed is my favorite. WHO CARES IF HE IS CONCUSSED?! You still can’t do that! And, if we are to believe this was an accident, then why did he he keep playing if he was so concussed? Let me get this straight-He’s too concussed to avoid the official, identify the official, or contain his emotion at the moment. But he was OK to continue playing the rest of the game?
To be clear, Wideman was actually diagnosed with a concussion. But that’s not a valid excuse for his actions. There was a failure on his part to report his symptoms to the team. And there is a failure from the team’s medical staff to recognize them. The Flames and their player can’t play the increasing popular “concussion card” out of one side of their mouths to absolve themselves of guilt for hitting the linesman, then plead innocence out of the other side of their mouths for protecting the player’s health properly.
Can you imagine the Pandora’s box that would’ve been opened if the NHL did get concussion-guilted on this one and let Wideman slide? “Gee Zac Rinaldo. You think you were concussed before you broke player X’s leg with a slash? Gee John Scott, you say you’ve had a bunch of concussions in the past so you shouldn’t be suspended for chasing Player Y down the runway and tackling him between periods? Gee, Raffi Torres. It says here you’ve had a few concussions, so come on back to the league I guess.”
Simply put, twenty games of Dennis Wideman’s career isn’t worth creating that slippery slope. And sacrificing the integrity of your rule book isn’t worthwhile either just to make a few bloggers feel fulfilled because they spoke out in unison with the rising voice of politically correct concussion cops.
Want to control concussions more, NHL? Don’t cave on appeal of this suspension. Want to see concussions rise? Give in on appeal of this suspension. Because then, in the irony of all ironies, concussions actually will be used often as excuses for why more were suffered as a result of dirty plays.
I know bashing the NHL is a chic thing to do right now. But leave this one alone. The league is right on Wideman.