As hockey fans, we've heard it countless times now -- after your first concussion, you're far more susceptible to another one. In the 1990s, the poster child for concussion was Eric Lindros, a hulking combination of skill and size.
Today, the most high-profile player suffering from post-concussion syndrome is Sidney Crosby, though the most discussed might just be Marc Savard, a shifty playmaking center built in the polar opposite of Lindros. In fact the difference in the style of play between Savard and Lindros is just as wide as the difference in attitudes toward concussions.
2011 is a far different environment than the late 1990s. Before Lindros' concussion woes really started in 1998, the former Hart Trophy winner and Philadelphia Flyers captain was the decade's face of the NHL. Young, handsome, brutal, and skilled; on paper Lindros was a marketing person's dream. You could show highlight reels of Lindros running over defensemen or scoring goals or you could plant his camera-friendly face next to a product -- or you could do both, as Nike and other corporate partners did.
For the first half of his career, Lindros was scoring at the fourth-best points-per-game rate in NHL history, but he played with an edge that Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux didn't. For casual sports fans of the 1990s, Lindros was the present and the future of the NHL; there's a reason why the Wells Fargo Center is still seen by some as The House That Lindros Built.
(Younger NHL fans may not remember this Lindros; instead, they may only recall seeing the player who really was a shell of his former self after landing with the New York Rangers and other teams. Generational players are supposed to still be effective at age 34, but by the time Lindros played his final season with the Dallas Stars, there just wasn't much gas left in the tank.)
While the scientific community is still researching whether there's a genetic predisposition to concussions, there's still such a thing as heeding a warning. Brett Lindros -- the not-as-good brother of Eric -- lost his career to multiple concussions. He advocated patience in the press, and he probably pushed for even more patience with his brother in private:
The problem for me was that I didn't take enough time off between [concussions] because I didn't know anything about it. No one knew.
As the elder Lindros brother fell victim to concussion after concussion, the symptoms seemed to linger enough to show that, for whatever reason, he didn't react well to them. Hockey fans offered mix views, with some claiming Lindros to be soft and operating under the direction of his father rather than the Flyers' medical staff. Others offered sympathy, acknowledging that you've only got one brain.
Now compare that to today. I don't think any Pittsburgh Penguins fan wants to rush Sidney Crosby back. Fans are educated enough on concussions to understand that this isn't something to be messed with. How much time is enough? How susceptible will a player be when coming back? Ignoring the requisite number of Crosby haters out there, the general consensus seems to be that Crosby should take as much time as possible.
With Marc Savard, no one's talking about how he got his "bell rung" yet again; instead, the sentiment among hockey fans is that the concern goes far beyond his season with the Boston Bruins -- they're concerned that Savard may face the same life challenges that someone like Keith Primeau currently does.
Some players simply change after getting a major concussion. Lindros was one of those guys. His power game all but disappeared despite his size, and even though he still had his shot and his hockey vision, he never rolled over people the way he used to -- not even in his best years with the New York Rangers. In Savard's games back, his timing felt constantly off, and since timing is one of the most critical parts of being a playmaker, it's no surprise that his point totals dropped.
With Crosby, you can be sure that the focus of the Penguins organization is for their captain to be 100% for the short-term and the long-term.
Perhaps things would be different if Pittsburgh was fighting for eighth place, and maybe the pressure will be ratcheted up now that Evgeni Malkin is done for the season. But with all of the debate about head hits, concussion-protecting helmets, and post-concussion syndrome, it's clear that awareness and understand has changed quite a bit over the past decade.
Ten years ago, Eric Lindros had his share of detractors through his battle with post-concussion syndrome. Today, if Sidney Crosby takes his time coming back or if Marc Savard calls it a career, the majority of hockey fans would advocate the cautious, safe approach. After all, concussions have already robbed too many players of their post-hockey life; we don't need that to happen again.