When I get mad about the lame-ass suspensions and fines the NHL hands out for hits to the head, this is why.
Mark Pavelich was, and always will be, an American sporting hero. It’s not really up for debate, as he was part of the team that authored the one win that has a feature film and a documentary about it. It’s still absurd that that group of college kids stunned the Soviets, and the hockey world, back in 1980 in Lake Placid. It was 41 years ago and still everyone knows “The Miracle On Ice.”
And his life was ruined due to dementia and mental illness due to brain injuries he suffered during his career. And his life ended because of it as well. His asphyxia death last month was ruled a suicide.
According to ESPN, as part of a felony assault charge in August 2019, Pavelich was found unfit to stand trial:
The judge said psychologists found that Pavelich was suffering from delusions and paranoia. Experts also diagnosed him with a mild neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury, likely related to repeated head injuries.
So when the NHL merely waves a hand at Connor McDavid viciously elbowing Jesperi Kotkaniemi or cowers in fear of punishing Tom Wilson too harshly again, how do they know somewhere down the line those incidents won’t feed into what happened to Pavelich? How can they say with certainty?
Hockey can never be totally safe, and no fan or player would advocate for that. The players are too fit, and they move too fast on a contained, hard, glasslike surface, for there to not be collisions. Throw in they’re all carrying weapons and have weapons on their feet, and shit’s going to happen. But getting rid of the unnecessary hits to the head, the ones that don’t have to be part of that game (yes that means fighting, too), if it saves one ex-player from Pavelich’s fate, that’s worth it.
Pavelich’s family has said that his brain will be studied to see if he suffered from CTE, the condition that we’ve all become familiar with thanks to far too many ex-NFL players, and wrestlers, and hockey players that have left this Earth far too soon. We can guess what the results for Pavelich will be.
But like all sports, hockey can never see more than 10 minutes into the future. Well, Pavelich doesn’t have a 10 minutes into the future.