Sidney Crosby’s heady approach should blaze trail for Peyton Manning

It’s been clear since he entered the NHL that Sidney Crosby is a prodigious talent and a smart guy to boot. That’s never been more clear than since he’s been sidelined because of concussion symptoms.

Crosby skated with his teammates last Friday for the first time in more than a month, and they made it clear how much they’d missed him. Each taped a “C” to his jersey before a morning skate in Florida before a game with the Panthers.

Despite the show of support, Crosby didn’t play; he hasn’t played since Dec. 5 as he continues to try to overcome the symptoms that he says make him dizzy and affect his balance.

Monday, the Pittsburgh Penguins said Crosby will work with chiropractic neurologist Ted Carrick, who treated him for similar symptoms last summer. There is no timetable for Crosby’s return, and without him, the injury-riddled Penguins have struggled, although they are two points ahead of the Capitals entering Wednesday night’s games.

Maybe it’s because Crosby is a bright fellow who has looked at his life beyond hockey; maybe it’s because Crosby’s owner, Mario Lemieux, is a bright fellow who looked at his life beyond hockey. Whatever the case, Crosby is taking no chances with his brain. And that’s a refreshing choice.

There was a time when hockey players, football players and boxers, to name a few, didn’t know the chances they were taking with their futures when they continued to take blows to the head. Whether they faced peer pressure or financial pressure or no pressure at all, they simply wanted to get back in the game and play.

Those days are gone. Crosby may end up being one of the trailblazers, one of the players to cautiously test the waters and skate away to the next stage of his life, rather than risk permanent, serious, life-altering brain injury. He may also recover his equilibrium and make an informed decision to resume his career. What strikes me about Crosby’s current struggle is that it is a struggle. He is not rushing back onto the ice. He is weighing his options.

One hopes Peyton Manning is doing the same thing. He has had three neck surgeries in 19 months, including spinal fusion surgery. The Colts, who finished 2-14 without Manning, already have said they’ll draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in April. Owner Jim Irsay has dumped vice chairman Bill Polian and his son, general manager Chris Polian. On Tuesday Irsay fired coach Jim Caldwell. It’s not out of the question Manning will be next. His support system is largely gone. He made $26.4 million last season without playing a down. He’s due a $28 million bonus March 8 unless he’s let go.

While the league is abuzz with speculation about where Manning could land — and of course, the Redskins have been mentioned, as they always are in any high-profile rumor mill — a lot must happen first. While the NFL’s rules protect quarterbacks better than players at other positions, sacks are still allowed. Hard hits as the ball is being released are still allowed. There are a million ways Manning could be hurt, perhaps badly. Perhaps permanently.

Before considering a return to the field, Manning must pass what will surely be an array of physicals. It’s possible that Manning will pass with flying colors, but those tests don’t come with guarantees. If Manning is smart — and he seems to be — he has spent some of the past idle year pondering life after football. Knowing when to walk away may be the toughest read of Manning’s career.

For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

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