The NHL Hired Concussion Spotters

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This was written for The Broad Street Bully, a blog and podcast my friend Drew and I started based off of our mutual interest in the Philadelphia Flyers. See it on]

The NHL is currently facing a number of lawsuits that are all based around concussions and the lack of information provided about the long term effects of concussions.  These NHL lawsuits stem from the NFL lawsuits, which eventually led to a $900 million dollar court settlement.  After instituting rules to try to stem head injuries, the NHL has now taken it one step further.

Starting this season, the NHL will require teams to have concussion spotters.  These spotters have only one job and that is to spot players who could potentially have concussions.  Surprisingly, in the past, the NHL was running into problems from the teams themselves,  They didn’t want to sideline players after any questionable hit because the team loses their services for the length of testing.  These new spotters can overrule the teams and will have the power to force players to leave the bench, go to a quieter location, and receive proper concussion testing.

With these new spotters, the NHL basically took the parameters for determining concussions out of the teams’ hands.  However, this new plan doesn’t come without its criticisms.  For one, these concussion spotters aren’t necessarily going to be licensed physicians.  Bill Daly, from the NHL upper echelon, had this to say about this criticism:

No medical expertise is needed to do the job they are being asked to do. They aren’t evaluating the players or diagnosing whether or not they have a concussion. That’s the job of the doctors and trainers. All they are doing is alerting team medical staff where they witness or identify an incident where there is a visible sign of concussion. Those signs aren’t ‘medical’ — they are objectively observable and they have already been precisely defined in the protocol.

The spotters, while mandated by the league, will be paid by the home team.  The question of impartiality can always be brought up when this is the case.  Why someone would fiddle with human safety for the purpose of a sports outcome is beyond me, though.  That seems like a pretty flimsy argument.

Because they may not be licensed physicians, and just going through the NHL required training for the position, there’s always the possibility that these concussion spotters make a mistake. They could end up pulling someone from a game who doesn’t necessarily need extra testing.  But, I’m assuming the NHL feels it’s ultimately better to be safe than sorry.  Even if the team loses because their star player is undergoing concussion tests, at least the league is assuring the players that they’re looking out for their best interest.

Starting this season, each team will have a spotter in the crowd.  Whether or not the spotter is an NHL selection or a team selection is up to the team.   However, if the team cannot provide a suitable spotter then there is a network of designated spotters that can be picked from.

Whether or not these spotters will ultimately be successful is still undetermined.  But, it is promising that the NHL is attempting to go the same route as the NFL in trying to stem head injuries from potentially ruining careers.


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