May 5, 2013, 11:51 AM EDT
It was 1998 when Eric Lindros appeared on the cover of the inaugural
issue of ESPN the Magazine along with Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez, and Kordell
Stewart. They were dubbed “the Next Ones”in their respective sports.
The mag is celebrating its 15th year in existence with their
May 13th issue, and in their look back on Lindros, David Fleming finds No. 88
did change hockey and sports as we know them – just not in the way we imagined.
Fleming details the superstar center’s history with concussions, and how his once
highly-criticized actions helped affect change in the way concussions are
viewed and handled.
Last season about 90 NHL players
(or 13 percent of the league) missed games with concussions, including former
playoff MVP Jonathan
Toews. The simple truth is that there may not be a way to wipe out
concussions completely in violent contact sports like football and hockey. So
what Lindros did was the next best thing: He stood up to hockey’s insidious
play-through-it culture. As a result, players today will tell you they feel
less obligated to hide or downplay a brain injury or postconcussion symptoms –
a mindset that protects them far more than any helmet or rule ever could.
“It’s unfortunate what Lindros
dealt with throughout his career,” says Maple Leafs defenseman
John-Michael Liles, who missed 16 games in 2011-12 following a concussion.
“But I think that one of the things everyone knows now, if there’s a possibility
that you got your bell rung pretty well, it’s, ‘Hey, we need to take a couple
of days and see.’ “
“Not so crazy now, was
I?” Lindros says, before catching himself. “But you want to give me
credit? I hate the idea of that more than anything. That poster boy s — ? No.
A lot of the story you already know. Lindros suffered
multiple concussions during his time with the Flyers, which at the time was a
common condition for athletes to play through. His refusal to do so created a
rift both with fans and inside the organization.
The profile also covers some aspects that are not so widely publicized,
including details of Lindros’ life after hockey. He’s tried to remain involved
in the battle, donating millions for research and speaking to medical students
about his first-hand experiences. It doesn’t always comes as easily for Lindros
as things seemed to on the ice, as he also discussed some disappointment from
his time working hand-in-hand with the NHLPA on the issue.
The good news is Lindros himself isn’t experiencing
long-term effects associated with brain injuries, and is described as strong
and sharp. Actually, he looked like he could’ve put on a uniform and helped the
Flyers at the Winter Classic Alumni Game in 2011.
We don’t talk about it often here, but obviously concussions
have been at the forefront in the NHL and NFL especially for a few years now.
Some of the research is still very new, but there is no escaping the fact that
these sports are going to continue to change and grow over the next few years
and decades. It’s not how Lindros wants to or should be remembered, but he
helped spark the movement.
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