What can sport teach society about brain injury?

After all of the attention paid to concussions over the past year, it seems that sports, notably football and hockey at the youth and pro levels, are the some of the few aspects of society that are beginning to comprehend that a concussion is a brain injury. Sports leagues across North America are focusing more on concussion and brain trauma and are trying to understand this complex injury. Statistically speaking, I know I shouldn’t take anything away from the first week of the NFL season, nor should anything be gleaned from the treatment of a single player (Sidney Crosby) in the NHL from his brain injury over 9 months ago, but I am heartened by the apparent acceptance and the attempts to comprehend the brain injury situation in sports.

In the first week of the NFL regular season (and from the small amount of US college football that I’ve seen in the past month), I have seen several big hits that have certainly left the receiver/ball carrier hurting – and with second thoughts about attempting the same route again. These hits, however, did not involve a shot to the head, nor did Continue reading

Incommunicado

“These days, we take pride in being tough enough to inflict pain on others. If an older usage were still in force, whereby being tough consisted or enduring pain rather than imposing it on others, we should perhaps think twice before so callously valuing efficiency over compassion.”

– Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land

This is a quote more about society in general than it is about sports in particular, but society and sport are so interconnected that the distinction is almost meaningless. I know I’m not breaking new ground by saying that the brain injury issue facing contact sports has a major communication problem, but the point is so important that it’s difficult to overstate.

Take hockey, for example. Any responsible kids’ minor hockey league coach will remind the players that hits to the head are big no-no’s. During the course of a game a player may hit an opposing player in the head (maybe intentionally, maybe not) – the hitter is penalized, the coach may get mad at him or bench him, but, as is so often the case, the hitter is noticed by other coaches for his hard -hitting, aggressive style of play. Due to a reckless and dangerous hit that contradicts everything the coach taught him and goes against the rules of the game, that player is noticed and rewarded by being picked for all-star teams and the coach is encouraged to give him more minutes. At higher levels, it’s more than other coaches and teams noting this aggressive player and his feared style of play. It’s also sponsors and TV networks, accentuating the pressure on the coach to showcase this player and the new hard-hitting and dangerous style of play.

We need to look at what we, as hockey, football, rugby or any contact sport fan, value in sports. If it’s fluidity of play and athleticism, then we need to make our values known. If it’s aggressive, strong, and tough players enduring pain, then we need to make that Continue reading

Wuss-ification? Seriously?

I was planning on writing a post about fatigue experienced after a brain injury, but last night (Saturday, March 5th) I caught some of ‘The Hotstove’ segment on Hockey Night in Canada and I had to write about it.

The last three minutes of the March 5th ‘The Hotstove’ is Mike Milbury railing against NHL-sanctioned violence and it’s definitely worth watching if only to see and hear the indignation with which his views are met by the three other panelists.  Pierre Lebrun (also a columnist with ESPN) actually uses the imaginary word “wuss-ification” when Milbury talks about changing the way the NHL looks at fighting.  Eric Francis (Calgary Sun), with one incredulous and contemptuous glare at Milbury shows us how this subject will likely be viewed by, not only the fan-base but, the traditional NHL media.  Milbury really hits a nerve when he suggests that fighting is part of the game because we (fans) “like it”.  This prompts proverbial ‘whoa’s and ‘pfff’s from the rest of the panel.  The ever-sagacious Ron Maclean says he likes “the threat of a fight”.  I like Ron Maclean, I think he does a great job, he’s smart and quick; unfortunately Continue reading