MUMPS IN THE ROOM: Who is to blame?

By:  Ken Will (@PensNation_K)

[PREAMBLE: I Believe that people have the right to be outraged. But I would hope that there is a desire for those opinions to be informed and educated. I am not a doctor, but I have the same medical degree as most other people who are writing about this issue. For a great read about the mumps across the National Hockey League and how we’ve gotten to this point I encourage you to read Chris Peters work from Eye on Hockey]

With the mumps sweeping across the dressing room of the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s fair that we’re all asking questions about the team’s medical staff and their policies for dealing with the virus:

Why weren’t the Penguins more proactive when they knew this is an issue in the National Hockey League?

I’ve seen this one a lot. It is certainly reasonable to expect the organization to be proactive given the circumstances. So it would be completely irresponsible for a team not to take precautions, right? To be clear–we are talking about proactivity, not fortune-telling. So what does it really mean to be proactive?

I personally don’t think it’s an insult to remind ourselves of the true definitions for the vocabulary that we choose, so let’s investigate the description given to us by Webster’s dictionary.

Proactive: Serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an expected occurrence or situation, especially a negative or difficult one; anticipatory.

So let’s start with Pittsburgh Penguins Patient: #1. That’s Sidney Crosby.

Did the Penguins run any tests on their star player in light of this outbreak?

Crosby, along with the rest of the team, was first tested by team doctors in late November after confirmed cases of the mumps in Anaheim and Minnesota. Less than a week later, he was tested once again after injury in Carolina on November 28. Both of these tests were negative. On December 11, Crosby continued to show swelling in his face as result of this injury. He was tested for a third time and and the results were negative for a third time. Crosby also failed to display any additional symptoms of the mumps such as fever, chills or body aches.

In addition to all of this, Crosby’s medical history included proper mumps vaccinations and booster shots and his immune system was tested by team doctors at the start of the season.

So let’s pause for just a second and review our definition of proactive. This is the time where I might also encourage a quick query on the term precaution.

What were the reasons to suspect that Crosby had the mumps on December 11?

-There were already at least 10 confirmed cases in the National Hockey League.
-Crosby had some slight swelling in his right cheek.

What were the reasons to suspect that Crosby did not have the mumps on December 11?

-He had been tested negative by team doctors three times in less than a month.
-Swelling was explained by an injury sustained in Carolina on November 28.
-Crosby’s vaccinations and booster shots were up-to-date and his immune system had been tested for its susceptibility to the virus.
-Crosby displayed no symptoms (fever, chills, body aches, etc.) of the mumps.


The sun went down and then it came back up. It’s now December 12.

What were the reasons to suspect that Crosby had the mumps on December 12?


Credit: PensTV














Fair enough.

Team doctors ordered a fourth test for the mumps and sent blood work to the CDC for further evaluation. Sidney Crosby was held out of a lineup that night against the Calgary Flames and for Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So at this point can we say that the Penguins were proactive with the mumps? Once again, it’s healthy to revisit our definition. The Penguins medical staff has now tested Sidney Crosby four separate times. The entire team has gone through at least one set of tests and there has not been a single positive case of the mumps in the Penguins dressing room.

The first sign of the mumps was when Crosby looked like that after Friday’s morning skate. Everyone wants to focus on this period of time when his exposure to the team/reporters can be measured in minutes. If Crosby infected anyone with the mumps, odds are pretty good that it happened outside of that window. As soon as the team got a grasp on the situation they reacted–after months of being proactive.

The night before, a group of the Penguins visited Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. Beau Bennett was one of the players in this group. The next Monday morning, he started to show signs of the mumps. He was immediately isolated from the team and tested. Those tests came back positive on Tuesday.



Were the Penguins proactive in their approach to the mumps? I’m not sure how you can look at the facts and say that they were not.

It’s 2014. We like to believe that we live in a perfect world but the truth is we are all still learning. There are clearly some things about this strain of the mumps that don’t line up with what doctors historically know about the virus. In more than one circumstance, the physicians from UPMC have reacted to what they have seen from across the league and taken precautions to keep players and those around the team safe. If anything that’s something for which I believe both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the team doctors should be commended–something that should have been done when they caught the blood clots of Tomas Vokoun and Pascal Dupuis or the tumor on Olli Maatta’s thyroid gland.

The story obviously has its share of on-ice implications, but the unfortunate part is that it is now a problem that is shared with Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital. Did Beau Bennet’s presence during the Penguins hospital appearance put patients at risk? Yes, it did. But was there any way of really knowing that at the time? Unless you had a crystal ball and a complete set of tarot cards then you can’t make that claim.

I’ve been critical of plenty of things that the Penguins organization has done over the past year. But I think it’s unfair to beat them up for trying to do good things.

But when you believe you live in a perfect world–run by perfect people–outrage seems to be our first instinct when something goes wrong.


[UPDATE] Since this posting, the Penguins are now offering mandatory booster shots for all reporters and team employees with locker room access. The Penguins are the first organization in the NHL to require this step.