More Grabovski concussion debate

It’s been nearly a week since he was drilled into the board by Zdeno Chara, but the well-being of Mikhail Grabovski’s brain is still making news. The Toronto Maple Leafs centre appeared dazed and confused while struggling to get to his feet, but returned to the game shortly afterwards and even scored the game winning goal late in the third period. In a story published on CBC.ca, a neurologist and concussion expert at the University of Toronto had had some interesting things to say in regards to last week’s controversial debate over whether or not Mikhail Grabovski suffered a concussion.


Dr. Richard Wennberg:

“By observation, it can be stated with certainty that he had a concussion. It would be against current medical management to continue playing the game.”

That’s a conflicting declaration from Dr. Wennberg, especially considering the comments from Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke (not a neurologist or concussion expert). Burke via James Mirtle, Globe and Mail:

“He would not have been allowed to return to play had he exhibited any symptoms of concussion… Our trainer is supposed to examine a player and make a determination. If he has concussion symptoms, at all, he’s done for the night.”

“He had no symptoms after the hit, none postgame, none this morning. This is a player with no symptoms.”

Dr. Charles Tator sung a similar refrain to Dr. Wennberg in speaking with the National Post last week:

“In this particular instance, when I looked at the video, he did have a lot of features of concussion,” Tator said Wednesday. “And if I were sitting there, I would probably have not let him go back. I would say that.”

In the Grabovski case, it was the team’s trainer Andy Playter that made the call on allowing him to return to action. That’s what gets to the heart of this debate. Many experts believe that the decision to allow an athlete or NHL player to return to the game following a suspected concussion should be made by a doctor – not a trainer. In the NFL, as stated in the CBC story, a player cannot return to a game until he has been cleared to do so by an independent physician.

Paul Echlin, a sports medicine doctor told CBC that he believes the ‘bravado’ of sport culture is a major reason why athletes will insist on playing through the cobwebs:

“The No. 1 thing is not wanting to leave the playing field or the ice surface or the football field regardless,” Echlin said. “Unless somebody drags you off, you’re not going to go.”

So it’s essentially the word of brash, tough talking types like Brian Burke versus that of experts in the field of concussions. According to the Maple Leafs trainer and their general manager, Mikhail Grabovski did not suffer a concussion – but neurologists speak to the contrary. Should the NHL adopt a similar approach to that of the NFL and place decisions regarding head injuries in the hands of those best equipped to make them? It’s cliche, but it’s the brain we’re talking about here… and you only get one.