Though Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford appears in the prime of his career when actually on the ice, it’s the number of times he’s been held off it that make it concerning for him to continue playing hockey
I wonder how often professional athletes think about retirement. Certainly not when they’re just getting started in a league. But being a pro sports star isn’t like working a desk job, where retirement can be millions of miles away. In athletics, you’re only as useful to teams as long as your body holds up. (Until they can prop you up in a front office spot.)
That may be a depressing take on being an athlete, but it’s not wrong. And that brings me to Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford.
Crow has rarely been seen since the start of December, first suffering a lower-body injury, then coming back seemingly quickly, and then disappearing again with what now appears to be post-concussion syndrome.
This is not the first time Crow has dealt with concussion issues. Run a Google search on “Corey Crawford concussion,” and while the first several results surround this recent event, you can find stuff from last season and 2013 alone. Some of those articles/posts are about the concussion protocol (or lack thereof), so there could be even more of a head-injury history with Crow than what we actually know.
With that in mind, as well as what I said at the top of this post, here comes an argument for Crow to consider retirement in the very near future.
Head injuries are no joke
Over the last two years or so, the NFL has seen a rash of players retire at a young age simply because of past concussion issues and fear over becoming vegetables by the time they reach their elder years.
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It would be a novel concept not even five years ago, I posit. Now, with more and more knowledge about concussions being delivered just about any time someone suffers a major head injury — or worse, any time a now-deceased former athlete has his or her brain examined for signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy — it’s a scary prospect to overstay your welcome in sports where head injuries frequently occur.
The NFL is an obvious candidate here, and has been the focus of numerous concerns regarding head injuries, CTE and the like. But hockey isn’t all that far behind, despite the league “trying” to cut down on high hits and other illegal plays that can lead to head injuries.
Of course, there’s nothing illegal about blasting a puck off a goaltender’s forehead. That’s all part of the game. It’s also a part of the game that can easily injure said goaltender.
Last season, Crow took an absolute rocket from Shea Weber right to the forehead. It actually knocked the goalie off his skates, causing a referee to immediately blow the play dead. Despite all this, Crow received perhaps the worst “concussion check” anyone has ever seen, given the situation.
And this wasn’t even something he missed time over! Crow could’ve suffered some sort of issue there and played through it. Not like it hasn’t happened before. Remember when former Blackhawk Marcus Kruger bemoaned the NHL’s changes to concussion policies because he’d “rather have it in his hands”?
The players aren’t coming out unless they can’t move, or unless an independent concussion spotter forces it. And, as I’ll talk about below, those guys seem rather incompetent of late.
So when you pile on something like the Weber slapper with things that have actually been reported, or that Crow has actually missed time for, you can paint a scary image.
It’s not even just pucks to the head. Here’s Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin crashing into Crow’s head with his leg earlier this season. Could this have been a key moment in what Crow is dealing with now? Who knows, but it couldn’t have helped.
Given what we’ve seen with former athletes suffering head injuries, what it can do to them later in life or how it can shorten their lives completely, when do you say enough is enough when you’re in a spot like Crow?
League won’t help him
The NHL, like the NFL, pretends it’s concerned about head injuries. Ultimately, however, neither league wants to scare away current or prospective player, nor the fans who watch those players and drive business.
Da Windy City
Las Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion early this season, managed to “pass” concussion protocol, then was diagnosed after the game and missed more than a month of time. Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick was allowed to stay in a game for roughly two minutes after taking a shot to the head and experiencing noticeable issues as a result.
What I’m saying is, the league is not going to help Crow stay healthy after this latest injury. Heck, his own team can’t even do what’s best for his well-being. Crow isn’t dealing with an active concussion — he’s dealing with post-concussion syndrome. That very well can mean the team botched handling a prior concussion.
I’m sure there are some out there who will say, “The players know their bodies best, so don’t worry about it.” Or, “You’ve never played hockey. It’s part of the game.” Both of these are the problem, though.
Players do know their bodies, so they know what they can do to hide problems such as concussions in order to keep playing. And it has been part of the game so long that when a player like Steve Montador dies and is posthumously diagnosed with CTE, too many within the league offer a single tear and a shrug before moving along and saying, “Well, at least we’re trying with these concussion spotters.”
With how much time Crow has missed in his career due to head injuries, and with the league’s penchant for failing to appropriately address them, I’d be terrified of what happens the next time Crow takes a puck or knee to the head.
Timing is totally fair
The biggest factor in this, if Crow was actually considering retiring due to head injuries, is his concern over his current and future well-being. That takes precedence over all else. Of course, there are lesser factors that can help make a seemingly early retirement easy to swallow.
Crow is already 33, and his present contract runs through the 2019-2020 season. He’ll be 35 by the time that season is up. If Crow feels he’s healthy enough and feels comfortable enough to play that long, why not hang up the skates at that point?
Crow has also made a good amount of money in recent years and should be able to live well. If he retired relatively soon, I’ll bet the team would even keep him around in some sort of ambassador’s role, should Crow want it. That’d keep his ties to the team while earning him a paycheck.
Very few athletes, in any sport, get the perfect sendoff. Sometimes a departure is sudden or rushed. It’d be unfortunate to see Crow leave the game on terms that are related to head injuries.
But I think it’s something he needs to honestly consider. He’s repeatedly suffered concussions, and his league and his team are doing a poor job in helping him avoid worse issues after the fact, such as post-concussion syndrome.
Crow is my favorite Blackhawk right now and has been for some time, so to write up a post like this makes me sad. However, he’s also a human being whose health should be looked out for. If he can get to a point where everything is great and he’s not endangering himself — beyond the typical danger that comes with hockey — simply by suiting up, then great. But if he can’t even say that’s happening, it’s time to consider a change.