Starkey: Letang, Neal and hard decisions
TribLIVE Sports Videos
When Penguins general manager Ray Shero answered his phone Feb. 1, team physician Dharmesh Vyas was on the other end with a question nobody wants to hear.
“Are you sitting down?” Vyas asked.
Vyas proceeded to inform Shero that tests on defenseman Kris Letang produced an astonishing result: Letang suffered a stroke three days earlier in Los Angeles.
Shero's thoughts immediately turned to Letang the person rather than Letang the hockey player.
“He's married and has a new baby — that's what I was thinking about, and that's what I'm still thinking about,” Shero said Tuesday after the Penguins' morning skate. “A return to play, I'm still not thinking about that at all. I don't have any expectation about that. Kris has our total support no matter what.”
That includes if Letang is cleared to play but is not comfortable with the idea of returning this season.
“If he's not 100 percent behind it,” Shero said, “I'll be supportive of him.”
Letang knows that. He trusts that the Penguins have his best interests in mind. Call me naive, but I think others should, too. The charge that Letang was rushed back to full-contact practice Monday is flat wrong. The notion that the Penguins should have delayed his return as a precaution is misguided.
The plan all along was to reevaluate Letang after six weeks. That is what happened. Shero is complying with the recommendations of a team of five doctors working with Letang, under Vyas' coordination.
Letang has availed himself of a reputable UPMC neurology department (ranked eighth nationally by U.S. News & World Report) and is free to seek outside opinions. He said Tuesday that he has, indeed, spoken with outside experts but is comfortable with his team of five.
“One for my brain, one for my heart, one for my vestibular (system) — everything,” Letang said. “It wasn't (left) to me if I was allowed to skate. They made that decision. It was (left) to me if I wanted to skate.”
He wanted to skate. So that was step one. Still a long ways from an actual game. If and when Letang is cleared to play, he will be left with the final decision. As it should be.
Will he have all the answers on his medical condition before that day comes? Of course not.
Letang is no different from the rest of us. We all want definitive answers when we visit a doctor, and we often don't get them. Doctors have not identified a cause for Letang's stroke. They might never. The risk of suffering another one cannot be quantified.
So what is Letang supposed to do, live out his days in a rubber room? He could have a stroke there, too.
“It could happen tomorrow or not at all,” Letang said. “I hope I'm not going to get one on the ice or something like that, but if it happens, it's just something I'm going to have to deal with.”
Other players can relate to nebulous medical conditions. Goalie Tomas Vokoun was a starter in Nashville going into the 2006 playoffs when a series of blood clots torpedoed his season. He went eight years without a recurrence. They reappeared last summer.
James Neal was diagnosed with a concussion Friday, his second in a year, but returned to the lineup Tuesday. He was cleared with no guarantees. None is available when it comes to concussions.
“It's my decision (on whether to play after being cleared),” Neal said after the morning skate. “If I feel right and back to normal and can play, I'll go from there.”
The most you can ask from a team is to provide the best medical help possible, to support outside opinions (the collective bargaining agreement makes teams respect them) and not pressure players to return. The Penguins, by all accounts, fulfill those obligations.
Every person I've spoken with over the years — players, agents, doctors — has driven home the point that Shero cares about his players as people first. He does not try to push the injured ones back into action.
“I've never ever said to a player, ‘What's going on? We really need you,' ” Shero said. “Nobody will leave here saying they were pressured to play. Ever.”
At some point, the player must make his own decision. So if you're Letang, Neal or Vokoun, you listen to the experts. If you're cleared, you can choose to play again, knowing something bad could happen tomorrow.
Or not at all.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Two wild-card format hurting Pirates in short term
- Animal activists targeting Vick at Steelers preseason game
- Starkey: The kick returner and the grizzly bear
- Steelers trade 6th-round pick for Jaguars kicker Scobee
- Steelers notebook: LB Harrison believes Goodell will prevail in Brady ruling
- Pittsburgh unemployment rate steady as job market shrinks
- Potential suspension of Pennsylvania AG’s license unusual
- God is touchy topic in ICU, Pitt study finds
- Bryant suspension opens doors for other Steelers’ receivers
- Collective Soul to play Carnegie Music Hall in Munhall on Oct. 11
- Kentucky clerk invokes ‘God’s authority,’ still refuses gay marriage licenses