Mid-day Musings: Safety Starts with You

Bruce Bennett

The Gryba hit has sparked tons of debate about whether it was dirty and/or suspension worthy. What I think it really showed though is there are a bunch of attitudes running around about player safety that I don't think are helping matters. Hockey's safety culture seems to revolve around questions like "who's to blame" and "was there intent to injure." While these may seem like the obvious things to ask, I believe they betray a fundamental lack of understanding about how to go about safety concerns.

If you want to be effective at decreasing accidents and improving safety, starting with a blame game is a poor way of going about it. Most accidents aren't solitary screw-ups or misfortunes but a series of failures, often minor, which cascade into a catastrophe. Often no one is entirely at fault but many could have prevented it if they had done things properly. Everyone is a wrong, so no one is responsible. Effective accident assessments instead of first looking to blame someone, instead ask "what went wrong" and "what can reasonably be done to prevent this in the future."

A lot of analysts started with looking for somebody to blame and settled on it being Diaz for making the pass and closed the case there. This also sometime combines with a very toxic attitude, that Gryba isn't responsible for the ensuring the well being of his opponents, especially if he didn't intend injury. If its Diaz's fault then we don't really have to look at what Gryba did and see if there is something he could have reasonably done to prevent the injury.

Shanahan's team in contrast, seems to have looked at the matter in a better way IMO. They looked to see if there was anything that Gryba could have reasonably done to prevent this injury and came to a conclusion. He could have not hit so high and from such an angle that the shoulder to head contact that Gryba inflicted would not be a foreseeable consequence if not his intent. Here they are looking to influence player behaviour by punishing them not for intent but for a reckless disregard for his opponent's safety. There is a key conceptual shift in this, that everyone's safety is the responsibility of everyone else.

This is something we can see a lot in Shanahan's recent videos. They seem to be focused on shifting player behaviour around to the idea that there is a proper and safe way to go about hitting that it is the player's responsibility to conform to. The gist seems to be that contact should be square and through the body so that force is distributed throughout the body rather than at a particular point and that reasonable efforts must be made to avoid contact to the head. Gryba failled both counts so he is in the crosshairs, just as White was not long ago. This is just good physics and physiology. The danger of catastrophic injury on body checks are principly when a body part is forced to accelerate out of sync with the center of mass, and the danger the brain has to blunt force trauma applied to the head. Preventing high and off-angle hits, in favour of low ones through the center of gravity should be a league preference. A safety office should be about promoting behaviour that leads to better outcomes.

At the same time there isn't a need to burn Gryba in effigy for the injury. He was intending the same thing everyone else when they make a big hit, to cause a moderate but not dehabilitating amount of pain and damage to his opponent by physical contact and perhaps retrieve the puck in the bargin. Lynching is unnecessary, but a sharp lesson in where the line is and what his responsibilities are seems warranted. What is needed is a push to better behaviour, not an making a scape goat out of a guy conditioned just like his fellows to try to crush his opponents at any opportunity.

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