Eric Lindros went against the grain when he removed himself from the game in favor of his own personal health and well-being over the immediate (potential) success of his hockey team, something that he would be ridiculed for throughout the remainder of his career. It ultimately led to the falling out with his childhood hero and GM, Bobby Clarke and his being traded from the team he helped carry to the Stanley Cup Finals during the 1997-98 season.
But his willingness to not let machoism and other outside pressures to return to the ice impact his decisions to sit out for (eight goddamn) extended periods of time something that, when looked back on now, may have resulted in his being a pioneer for head injuries in sports.
Lindros—who appeared on the first cover of ESPN the Magazine in May of 1998—is featured in the 15th anniversary issue of The Mag with a title all-too fitting, “Not So Crazy Now, Am I?” His story is one that needs to be read, especially with all the focus and attention (finally) being given to head injuries.
Nowadays, most hockey fans applaud and defend Penguins star Sidney Crosby for having the guts and perspective to sit as long as he needed to fully recover from a concussion. A dozen years ago, when Lindros tried to do that? The reaction was, shall we say, slightly less enlightened. The media snickered about his manhood and mocked him as a head case. Fans threw pacifiers on the ice. And when Lindros and his parents dared to question the Flyers medical staff after the team first sent Eric to a migraine specialist in March 2000 instead of a neurologist who focused on concussions, the old-school Clarke flipped. He isolated Lindros from the team, at one point going weeks without speaking to his injured star. Then he stripped him of his captaincy.
Looking back, that’s one of the moments of his experience that irks Lindros the most and makes him worry about today’s nonmarquee players: The pressure to play, the alienation from teammates and the other mind games used to get players back on the ice — those things worked on him, in large part because he let them. “The athletes are the worst advocates for this crap by not disclosing enough,” he says. “Who wants to admit deficiencies and put that X on your back? Are you gonna take yourself out? Because now it’s who do they have in the minors to replace you? It’s a sh — y business in that regard.”
No matter what kinds of rule changes are made, it’s probably next to impossible to remove concussions and other head injuries from high-impact sports like football and hockey, but Lindros did his part to begin to remove the stigma of a player admitting their injured. Guys like Crosby and Pronger—who might never play again at the rate his recovery is going—would’ve been castrated for taking the amount of time off that they have if they were in the league 10 years ago. The fans and media would’ve been ruthless, the teams would’ve completely shunned them, and their talent would’ve been squandered. All because they took (and continue to take) the necessary steps towards a complete recovery rather than potentially destroy their futures for the sake of the game.