Commentary

Crosby's clearest stand is on head shots

Updated: September 8, 2011, 10:53 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

PITTSBURGH -- When a top concussion doctor such as Ted Carrick tells you that Sidney Crosby's progress is like Christmas is coming for the star player, well, that's pretty darned optimistic, no?

Of course, for all the optimism that permeated Wednesday's highly anticipated news conference, a gathering that included no fewer than 11 camera crews, we still don't know whether Crosby will play before this Christmas. Or, truth be told, next Christmas, either.

For all the talk of gigantic strides taken by the game's best player and the emphatic belief on the part of two concussion specialists that not only will Crosby play again but play as though the injury never happened, there remains more than a little uncertainty about when that might happen.

But that, alas, is the nature of the beast when it comes to the beast of concussions.

Crosby skated again Wednesday before meeting with reporters to discuss his condition for the first time since the end of April. But the seminal moment on the road to recovery when the Penguins' captain can be cleared for contact is not going to happen anytime soon.

"We're not even close to that now," said Dr. Mickey Collins, director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh.

For those who are disappointed at the lack of finality about Crosby's situation, Wednesday's media briefing was nonetheless significant on a number of fronts.

First, Crosby came out strongly in support of a total ban on blows to the head at the NHL level regardless of whether they are intentional or accidental.

Players are asked to stay in control of their sticks or risk being penalized; why not ask them to control their bodies, Crosby said.

He praised Hockey Canada's decision to impose a blanket ban on hits to the head across the nation, noting that kids now will grow up learning to play the game without making those kinds of hits.

As for the NHL game, he said the game would not be diminished if head shots were outlawed.

"At the end of the day, I don't think there's a reason not to take them out," he said.

"It's an important thing to really look at."

Given that Crosby has graciously accepted his role as one of the game's most important assets and one of the league's most visible ambassadors, his comments are the equivalent of throwing down the gauntlet to the league and the players' association, demanding action be taken.

Surely if the game's best player thinks it's time for a change when it comes to head shots, his union and the owners who benefit mightily from his presence in their rinks ought to take notice.

Beyond Crosby's comments on potential changes to the game, the briefing reminded people of the devastating nature of concussions.

It's not a new story, of course, and we have heard it all too often in recent years. But to hear a player such as Crosby discuss the physical and emotional toll the injury has taken is a sobering reminder of the importance of dealing with the problem.

[+] EnlargeSidney Crosby
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar"At the end of the day, I don't think there's a reason not to take them out," Sidney Crosby said of banning blows to the head.

Crosby recalled how he couldn't stand to drive and how even the sound of the radio in the car was bothersome in the days and weeks after he was injured during the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 and sustained a second hit in the Penguins' next game against Tampa Bay.

There were migraine headaches, something he'd never experienced before.

At one point, he tried to attend a team meeting, but watching video was unbearable, the effort required to concentrate on the images draining.

And then there have been the mental hurdles.

Several times Crosby has had to scale back his workouts because of the reoccurrence of symptoms such as headaches and fogginess as he tried to push himself toward game readiness.

"That's the nature of these things," Crosby said.

"I would say there were different points when I was definitely frustrated. As positive as you try to be, it definitely takes a toll and [is] mentally draining."

If there was frustration from the public at not knowing where he was in terms of his recovery, it's because often Crosby had no idea himself.

If he'd been giving regular updates instead of remaining almost entirely silent on his progress for the past four months, "I'd have been telling you a different story every two days," he said.

Still, for all the ups and downs Crosby has endured, he insisted he has never contemplated retirement, never dwelt on the possibility that he might not play again.

Further, he said he was optimistic about his ability to return and play this season.

"Mentally I feel good. It's probably the best I've felt, honestly," he said.

Among the factors in being unable to put a timetable on Crosby's return to the game is the steadfast insistence by all concerned that he will not come back before he is 100 percent.

"I don't look at the concussion as the bogeyman here," said Collins, who treats some 4,000 concussions a year.

Crosby is making progress, has made significant progress, and the expectation is that he will return and play well.

But, Collins added, "I can guarantee you we are not going to make any mistakes in this case."

Crosby concurred that playing at 90 percent might be doable but that he wasn't willing to take that risk. Neither are the Penguins, GM Ray Shero added.

"There's no timelines on this. We cannot predict when this is going to occur," Collins said.

"Sid's 100 percent is different than anyone else's. He's the Ferrari of hockey players."

Assuming Crosby at some point reaches that magical 100 percent level of rehabilitation, both doctors on hand Wednesday insisted they see no reason Crosby cannot resume the level of play that had him running away with the NHL scoring race at the time of his injury. In fact, Collins said studies have shown athletes who do wait until they are 100 percent recovered experience fewer cases of further concussions.

So in spite of the uncertainty that still confronts Crosby and the fans who await his return, there was an overriding sense of optimism that this is going to have a happy ending.

Indeed, if we were left with one moment from this gathering, it was the comment by Carrick, a professor of clinical neurology based outside Atlanta who was called in this summer when Crosby experienced a return of symptoms while working out.

He said this should be a period of celebration for Crosby and those who care for him, that he had come a long way and that his prognosis was very positive.

"This is going to have a very good outcome," Carrick said.

Sounds like good news, even if we're not sure when that news will come.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.