The moment I saw the above clip showing Dennis Wideman pummel a referee from behind, I knew this was a thing.
Let's review what happens in the incident.
- Mikko Salomaki (#20 on Nashville) gives Wideman a check along the boards.
- Wideman spins as a result of the hit, his head pounding into the glass.
- Wideman begins to skate back to the bench, visibly affected by the hit.
- The linesman, #91 Don Henderson, skates backwards in front of the benches, watching the play come back down the ice.
- While the puck is played just a few feet away, Wideman beelines towards the bench. He shoves Henderson in the back, pushing him violently to the ground.
- Wideman skates past the fallen Henderson and enters the bench area, seemingly oblivious to what just happened.
I don't really understand the people who don't believe that Wideman was affected by a concussion when he made that inexplicable, unprovoked, out-of-character act. He doesn't have a history of overly aggressive play, and his behavior was not the behavior of someone who had his wits about him.
I've heard people say that they've never had a concussion, so they can't speak to the actual experience. That is, of course, incorrect. Have you ever been injured? Or nauseated, whether due to excessive drinking or stomach bug? Of course you have. And when you were, did you feel like dealing with people? No. You were rude and single-minded, and perhaps downright aggressive in trying to get wherever you needed to go (probably to the bathroom). When you're not feeling like yourself, especially when it's due to discomfort or pain (both of which are perfectly reasonable to assume Wideman was experiencing), you can be an asshole. I don't play hockey, but I can imagine that in a realm where you're used to checking people, checking another person when you're feeling crappy and trying to get to your bench as fast as possible seems like a reasonable possibility.
So, if Wideman were concussed, his actions make some sense. If he weren't concussed, he'd have to basically be a supervillain, which I don't think he is. As a result, I'm confident in saying that he was concussed during the incident.
With that as an established fact (for the purposes of this blog post), Wideman deserves a twenty-game suspension for his actions.
That's right. Wideman had an opportunity to play by the rules, and he chose not to. When he refused to be examined for a concussion, he was accepting responsibility for anything that might've happened as a result of his concussion, namely, the hit he laid on a linesman.
"That's not fair," you say, hands on hips. "How is he supposed to have the wherewithal to make the decision to have himself checked for a concussion, especially if he himself has a concussion?" Well, go ahead and slide those hands off of your hips and turn them into thumbs-ups, because you're absolutely correct. Dennis Wideman, or any concussed player, can't be expected to make that call.
How fortunate, then, that the NHL pays people specifically to do this for them. The NHL provides two concussion spotters, one for each team, for every single game. Teams are allowed to provide their own spotters (and usually do), but there is always at least one person whose sole job is to take that responsibility away from the players.
Except, just kidding, the teams don't have to listen to spotters at all. As I mentioned above, Wideman refused to be evaluated for a concussion, and that was the end of his concussion "process" that night.
The Flames' trainer has the authority to pull a guy out of the game, and if the trainer has trouble with a player, it behooves him or her to inform the head coach, to ensure that players are protected from themselves.
I listen to The Hockey PDOCast regularly, and about a week ago they had Eric Young as a guest on the show. Young is a professional wrestler who said he's had multiple concussions, though he was careful to not mention any in particular. Among other parts of a very interesting interview, Young said that he thinks that, if given the choice between taking on the full risks of hockey in its current state and just passing on hockey, most players would choose to take on all the risks.
When I consider that information, and all that I know about hockey players from working at an ice rink, I know that if players can get away with staying in a game despite a concussion, they will, without a doubt, try to stay in the game. I have to believe that people who get paid to be in the NHL business know this as well. That means you have to take the choice away from them. Concussion spotters need to have some level of authority, as they do in the NFL.
But that's big picture stuff. Let's focus on the specifics of this incident.
The NHL suspended Dennis Wideman for 20 games as a result of the hit, and Gary Bettman upheld the suspension as the first level of the appeal process. The second level takes the question to an arbitrator, and we'll see what they think. But I think both sides have been arguing the wrong battle here.
The NHL's position is that Wideman was not experiencing concussion symptoms, and is thus responsible for his actions. Wideman says he was concussed, and thus not responsible for his actions.
Both of these positions are idiotic.
First, if Wideman was concussed, he's still responsible on some level for his actions. If he had robbed a 7-11 while concussed, he'd still be held responsible for the robbery. And as for the NHL's position, get serious. Clearly Wideman was concussed. The people who want to see Wideman fully punished argue that he had his full faculties, but I don't think that's necessary.
I think that you can suspend Wideman 20 games and say, "The player was given the opportunity to be evaluated for a possible concussion. When he refused, he indicated that he was not suffering a concussion, and had full command of his faculties. As a result, we have no choice but to defer to the player's own judgment in determining his culpability in this infraction."
The best source for Dennis Wideman's state of mind at the time is Wideman himself, in that moment. And at that moment, Wideman said he was not suffering from the effects of a concussion. Enter that into evidence.