I was going to try to make a joke about windows closing quickly and throwing things out those windows so that I could use the word “defenestrate”, but let’s be honest here – this situation isn’t a joke. Amanda Kessel, one of women’s hockey’s most dynamic players, is sitting out the 2014-2015 NCAA season due to lingering concussion symptoms, and it sucks.
Kessel sustained that concussion “as a member of the U.S. National Team”. I’m sure what we’re supposed to take from that (or at least, what USA Hockey and the University of Minnesota are hoping we take from that) is that she sustained the concussion in Sochi, but I feel pretty confident in my assumption that she didn’t. Kessel sat out a large number of the USA/Canada exhibition games prior to the Olympics. Sure, she was dealing with hip problems last year, but this latest news makes that look a bit more suspect, doesn’t it?
I yell a lot when the men’s hockey players I love to watch play through injuries, especially those of the head-impact variety, so I would be a giant hypocrite if I didn’t get ragingly mad about Kessel playing through hers. But here’s the thing – I get it. I don’t agree with it, but if Kessel was still experiencing concussion symptoms when she went to Sochi, I understand her decision to play anyway.
For these women, the Olympics is their Stanley Cup moment. You’ve heard all of them say that before. I cannot see a scenario in which any of them make their Olympic team and then pull out because of injury unless their limbs are falling off. Meaghan Mikkelson broke her hand during the tournament in Sochi and kept playing. Hayley Wickenheiser had been “working around” a broken foot for a year when the Canadian women won their most recent gold. Kessel choosing to play while possibly experiencing concussion symptoms is unsurprising at best. You didn’t think the women were actually different from the men in that respect, did you?
The fact is, the window of playing elite, high-level hockey closes so much more quickly for women than it does men. If you’re an elite female player, you typically get four years of college hockey, and outside that your options are limited to your national team (which usually ranks as most important) and, if you so choose, your unpaid CWHL career. The guys can “come back healthy next season”. For the women, that isn’t always an option, so they’re almost more likely to play through things they shouldn’t just to get that Olympic/”Stanley Cup” moment. Kessel got cut from the Vancouver team. You can bet your ass she wasn’t going to let anything keep her from playing in Sochi.
This is just another reason I want to see change in the lack of paid professional hockey careers for women. I was told the other day by someone who follows the CWHL very closely that they’re on track to pay players within three years. I hope that’s true. That’s great. I want this league to succeed and thrive and allow these women the opportunity to play hockey at their highest level and make a living doing it. Because part of playing hockey at your highest level means giving your body time to heal so that you’re not only playing at your best, you’re able to actually live your life after hockey.
Amanda, I’m glad you’re giving your brain time to heal now. I hate that you’re having to miss an entire season to do it.