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Kovacevic: How do you miss a broken neck?

| Monday, Jan. 30, 2012

One can choose to study the Sidney Crosby injury saga through the maddening prism of its particulars. One could dissect every detail of every visit to every doctor to what now might be every state in our union, and that's to say nothing of possible paddle-boat excursions to see medicine men in the jungles of Brazil and Burundi.

Just wait till those hit the Canadian tabloids.

But, honestly, I'm as weary of all the minutiae as most Pittsburghers. It's becoming increasingly difficult to make sense of the big-picture perspective.

So let's try something simpler and focus solely on two dates.

On Jan. 1, 2011, Crosby was blindsided in the head by Washington's David Steckel during the Winter Classic. The Penguins' captain crashed to the ice and was, by his recollection ... well, actually, he had no recollection.

"I couldn't even tell you what happened," Crosby said that night, his dazed eyes visible to most of us in Heinz Field's news conference room. "The puck was going the other way, and I turned. Next thing I know, I'm down. So I can't really comment."

Crosby went on to say he felt some "neck soreness." That soon became the official diagnosis.

On Jan. 28, 2012 — that was Saturday — the Penguins commented on reports swirling around the NHL's All-Star festivities in Ottawa that Crosby had sustained a neck injury. The Tribune-Review's Rob Rossi reported that this injury consisted of cracks in his two uppermost vertebrae, the C1 and C2.

Sticking with the simple theme, that's what we commoners call a BROKEN NECK.

This was the Penguins' statement, not attributed to any individual: "The diagnosis of Dr. Robert S. Bray, a neurological spine specialist based in Los Angeles, is that Sidney Crosby had suffered a neck injury in addition to a concussion. Dr. Bray reports that the neck injury is fully healed. Those findings will be evaluated by independent specialists over the next few days. The most important goal all along has been Sidney's return to full health, and we are encouraged that progress continues to be made."

Well, that's reassuring.

But, hey, if it's all the same to that unnamed soother of souls, I've still got a couple of small questions based entirely on the two events just cited:



Fractures do get missed, even in the high-stakes world of sports medicine. Last summer, for example, the Pirates took embarrassingly too long to diagnose first baseman Derrek Lee and outfielder Jose Tabata with hairline fractures of the wrist.

But after the athlete complains on a global stage about "neck soreness?"

If Bray's findings are correct, the various people assembled by the Penguins and Crosby to treat his ailment have some serious explaining to do.

2. Fully healed?

The Penguins' statement specifies that Bray deemed the vertebrae "fully healed," which means he either peered back into Crosby's past to determine they once were cracked, or the BROKEN NECK was found in the same week that it mystically healed itself in the California sunshine.

It's understandable that the Penguins want other specialists to confirm a retroactive diagnosis.

But it's telling, yet again, that the team and Crosby clearly still aren't in sync on the issue of his health.

Even with regard to the $8.7 million question as to whether Crosby sustained a concussion Dec. 5 when elbowed by Boston's David Krejci, there remains a fundamental disagreement: The Penguins have stated repeatedly that Crosby is out with "concussion-like symptoms." But Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, was quoted by Canada's CBC network as saying Crosby did, indeed, sustain a second concussion. Brisson later denied saying that.

This sort of thing has been going on for several months now, and it must change.

It's very much the intent of team owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, as well as general manager Ray Shero, to sign Crosby to a long-term contract before the current one expires in summer 2013. I believe front office personnel when they say that, just as I believed Crosby when he told me a couple weeks ago that he loves Pittsburgh and wants to stay. It's the right move, even with Crosby's health questions.

But all concerned would benefit from a come-to-Mario moment right about now, and the word Sunday that Lemieux and Crosby watched the All-Star events on TV at Lemieux's place might be an encouraging precursor.

If nothing else, it could be a sign that Crosby doesn't blame the Penguins for failing to diagnose a BROKEN NECK.

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