Montreal center Lars Eller is the hospital this morning, after this devastating hit from Ottawa's Eric Gryba. Eller briefly lost consciousness and the team says he suffered a concussion, and facial and dental fractures. Now some people are mad that an Ottawa paper stuck a bloodied Eller on its front page for the sake of a headline.
First off, the hit wasn't particularly dirty. It was very arguably a good hockey play, Gryba stepping up to singlehandedly break up a Habs rush. It went horribly wrong only because Gryba's pinch was so unexpected, Eller didn't see it coming. That's not Gryba's fault. He got a game misconduct, but that should probably be it. (It's sort of annoying to side with Senators fans, who would be screaming for the gibbet if Matt Cooke was involved in this.)
Here's the cover of today's Ottawa Sun:
The Sun is being called out across the echo chamber of the hockey blogosphere today for, well, it's not clear. Making light of the injury? Using a graphic photo to sell papers? Pointing out that we use violent metaphors for sports all the time, but don't like it when our metaphorical blood becomes real and pools on the ice?
Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy had the best take on this:
We cheer injurious plays all the time, in the moment: a huge hit, a massive collision, a knockout punch in a fight (or a fight itself, which is a serious of mutually accepted injuries). It’s only in the aftermath we recoil and offer concern for the well being for the athlete. Our kinetic, Pavlovian response to the act is balanced by our dialing back to feeling something more human than puckhead — "concern."
Because of that response, teams put hits that lead to concussions in highlight reels. Bloody faces of players represent the warrior aesthetic in hockey. Quick, how many injuries do you count in this Hockey Night in Canada montage for the 2013 playoffs? You know, the one that hockey fans said brought them tears of joy upon viewing it yesterday?
The NHL's at a schizophrenic place in its relationship with head trauma. Fans and media understand and appreciate the long-term effects, yet aren't above celebrating the big hits and physical play that make hockey hockey. It's as if ESPN still ran those "Jacked Up!" segments, and ran them right before the latest report on yet another former NFL player developing dementia.
There's not really a wrong school of thought on this—hockey is dangerous and that's what makes it fun vs. hockey should be made less dangerous. But there is a hypocritical side, the one where showing a pool of blood and a semi-conscious Lars Eller is out of bounds, while Eric Gryba's hit—or hits like it—will become part of a 2014 highlight reel set to classic rock that successfully hypes playoff TV coverage.
As Wyshynski points out, NHL.com has scrubbed the blood from its highlight clip of the play (complete with a pre-roll advertisement). But we should probably look at the blood. We should show the blood, and the aftermath of these things, because this is what sometimes happens in a sport with checking. Sometimes people get hit in the head. Sometimes they go down wrong. Sometimes there's lots of blood. Sometimes the sport's best player misses months at a time with concussions. Sometimes players are forced out of the game, and die young. We know this, and we've mostly come to terms with it because we're still watching, aren't we? But as much as we'd like to forget it, the blood's still there.