It's the age-old question: If offered a pill that would make you a multi-millionaire, but kill you in 10 years - would you take it?
For me, the answer is no. But, there are other, similar, scenarios where my answer would be yes.
Like Ian Laperriere's.
Laperriere is the kind of player every fan can root for. He's never taken the easy way out, fighting and scrapping his way through 1,083 games. He'll throw his body in front of everything, one of the reasons his nose looks like a road map of the Don Valley Parkway.
Minutes before his Flyers eliminated New Jersey in the first round of last year's playoffs, Laperriere suffered a brain contusion after blocking a Paul Martin shot. He missed 10 games, returning with a face shield.
On Tuesday, he admitted that shouldn't have happened. Laperriere did have headaches, even though he passed all of the testing required by the team and the NHL.
"As hockey players we do have headaches. You get bumped around and it's not necessarily a concussion," Laperriere said during a phone conversation. "Especially in the [Stanley Cup] semifinals, there was no nausea or depression, like Marc [Savard]. I don't have that like other guys.
"The only person I was lying to was myself. You think of excuses, like, 'Oh, my neck is out of shape.' You're believing what you're thinking. That's what happening. Even during the summer, when I wasn't feeling too good, I'm thinking, 'I'm dehydrated,' or 'I'm doing too much.'"
It didn't help, that for the first time in his career, Laperriere's team reached the final. If you've ever watched an on-ice Stanley Cup victory celebration, you know that it's the guys who've been around the longest who celebrate the most, especially those who've never won before.
"I want to win so bad, I lied to myself."
Sadly, we're hearing this kind of story too often now. Savard, also out with post-concussion syndrome, said last week he wasn't right during the Bruins' second-round loss to Philly.
"I think on my own fault I might have come back a little too early last year," he told the Boston media. "That's my own fault. I guess it's just the hockey player in me that I wanted to play hockey in the playoffs. I had huge fatigue problems during that series, and I think when David Krejci got hurt [in Game 3], that really hurt me."
Laperriere gets that.
"It's tough for people to understand. I know this is a sport, but since we were little boys, we've had the hockey mentality. Whether it's your brain or your knee, suck it up."
Hockey and football have the worst concussion problems. Both leagues are working hard to learn more about potential damage. (Here's a great article from The New Yorker -- http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/19/091019fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all. The NHL is doing similar work.)
But there are kinks in the system. Hockey faces a constant battle about hits to the head, while the Philadelphia Eagles were ripped for allowing two concussed players to return to action during opening weekend.
But, what happens when a player passes every single test? Laperriere was facing that "pill question." You can go for the Stanley Cup now. You'll pay for it later, but you can go for that dream now. It's tough to say no.
It's not just athletes. We all make difficult choices. During the 2006 Stanley Cup final, TSN's Edmonton-based reporter, Ryan Rishaug, had an emergency appendectomy on a Saturday. Two days later, he was on a cross-continent flight to Carolina. I remember Rishaug having to wear his shirts untucked. He told me on Tuesday it was because he was bleeding from the stomach.
But covering the final was a big break for him and he didn't want to give it up.
At the 2004 Stanley Cup final, one reporter broke her ankle in a fall. She was pushed around on a wheelchair, not wanting to give up that assignment, either. Now, neither of those were concussions (although an appendectomy isn't exactly an evening of laughs), but it illustrates how hard it is for anyone to give up something that really matters to you.
Even as training camp returned, Laperriere wasn't right.
"Skating with the boys, I was still making excuses, 'Maybe I'm nervous, maybe this maybe that.' In Toronto [last Saturday], while watching the game, the lights were bugging me. The game was so fast, and I was thinking to myself, it shouldn't be that way."
That's when Laperriere went to trainer Jim McCrossin and Holmgren.
He's not certain when, or if, he'll be back - "my oldest, who is eight, is upset daddy's not playing right now," Laperriere laughs - but stresses he's not battling any depression. But, if faced with the same choice, would he make a different decision?
"I passed every single test. I'll probably make a different call, but don't have a time machine and those tough shoes to be in," he says. "Everything tells you to play."
And that's the battle here.
If the player passes the tests, only they can truly know if they're really healthy. There's always the fear of losing your spot, or missing your one chance at the Stanley Cup. The easy thing to do is rip into Laperriere or Savard, guys who've been around a long time but never had that glorious taste a champagne
I'd like to say they're wrong. But, I'm not sure if, in their shoes, I'd make a different choice.
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