Guest Post: Because It’s Your Brain

Today we feature a guest post from Clare, who is a passionate Canadian and hockey fan with strong opinions on concussion culture. After she went on a rant about the effect refusing to disclose injuries has on kids like the ones she coaches, I asked her to expand on that for us. 

 

Dale Weise does not have a concussion. Steven Stamkos did not have a concussion. Darcy Kuemper did not have a concussion. Rick Nash has never had a concussion. Ever. David Backes has never seen that concussion before in his life, officer. Jimmy Howard had “the flu.” Jameses Reimer and Wisniewski did not have a concussion between the pair of them. Tyler Seguin had “concussion-like symptoms,” which is like being “kind of” pregnant. Gonchar had those too, which I’m guessing means they’re either contagious or he had the same meal Seguin had (the hamburger that walked like a duck and quacked).

And y’know, I’m glad none of those players had concussions, because concussions are brain injuries and if you were to, say, continue to play a full-contact sport such as the fine game of extreme ice golf which we all love immediately after receiving said concussion or while suffering a concussion or during your concussion recovery period, that would be Not A Super Good Thing To Do, health-wise. That would be rather dangerous and a bad life choice.

I’m not a doctor, and bodies do weird things. Sometimes you take a hard hit to the head and don’t get a concussion.

Please consider, however, this double-double:

  • a baseline concussion test takes a minimum of 15 minutes to do
  • Dale Weise was off the ice for 9 minutes of real time (x)

and

  • concussion symptoms include, among other things, balance problems and disorientation
  • Weise had to be bear-hugged by PK Subban (if you think you’re ready for this jelly, the line forms on the right) in order to not fall down after being whacked upside the head

The only kind of math that allows you to look at that and come up with a confident “Nope, absolutely no concussion here and I can be absolutely confident in saying that and in letting this human being back on the ice where such a thing might conceivably happen again” is the kind of math where 2 means 6 and 3 means paprika.

As I said, I’m not a doctor and maybe none of those players had concussions. That’s fine, and I’m glad if it’s true. But I will bet you all $10.75 in Canadian Tire Money to my name that at least one of them did, and continued to play with it. And that’s not okay.

paul-kariya-scott-stevens-hit-playoffs-ducks-goal

We applaud the moment Paul Kariya came back as inspiring, but given what we know now, should we?

It’s not okay because they are putting themselves in very real danger that could affect how they live the rest of their lives. Concussions are very much an area we’re still exploring with regards to the effects of multiple concussions later in life. Maybe players are mechanized meatbags exhausting their bodies for the entertainment of the masses, but I hear tell they are also human people with families and children who may wish to live lives of comfort and health once they are done performing feats of athletic theatre for us.

NHL players are grown men who I would like to be able to trust to make their own decisions regarding their health and ability to contribute to their team after a hard hit, but they don’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does the culture that informs those decisions or the lies their coaches tell us.

I coach a sports team full of wonderful, conscientious young adults who want to try their hardest for themselves, their teammates, and me. But when they have been shown repeatedly in virtually every professional sports medium available to them that the players they admire willingly and repeatedly play through injuries, including concussions, that contributes to a culture of martyred machismo and self-denial that makes it all the harder to say “Coach, I got my bell rung. I’m sitting this one out.”

If you have a broken bone, of course you sit this one out. (Unless you are Patrice Bergeron or an idiot.) But the gravity of concussions are so little understood, and so rarely taken seriously at any level of sports, that they’re often not recognized, let alone addressed or enforced. And entire organizations are enabling that to happen again and again.

2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six

Let’s not forget this guy had a punctured lung and kept playing through it.

And every time Jonathan Toews plays through a concussion to be a Tough Leader or Michel Therrien says “For us, what is really important is player safety” with a straight face while allowing a player who could face very real injury to return to the ice, they make my job and the job of every coach and parent just a little bit harder. If some 14 year old gets Dale Weise’d at practice when the coach’s back is turned, you think he’s telling his mom if Michel Therrien can’t tell a microphone?

NHL players and coaches are in a position of influence. They have a responsibility and an opportunity to take and treat concussions as seriously as they possibly can, to err on the side of caution, to stress the importance of recovery time (which can vary, but is usually longer than “the rest of the second period and the time it takes to chug a Gatorade”), and to say repeatedly and at the top of their lungs that concussions are serious, their players have them, and playing through them means letting your team down and endangering yourself.

The state of NHL player safety with regards to head injuries is completely unconscionable. As an athlete, I understand the impulse and the culture that creates and enables it – to push, to overcome physical weakness, to help your team win and never give up. I understand the playoffs, and the Stanley Cup being close enough to taste. Those themes, and not the head trauma and possible brain damage, are the ruling ethos.

Concussions and our inability to be honest about them affect lives, careers, livelihoods, and the literal dreams of children. Every time you say “upper body injury” like the 400 cameras in the arena didn’t see someone get clocked in the head, you’re feeding the beast of that ethos Fancy Feast on fine china.

Michel Therrien can’t make a 14 year old be honest with his coach or his doctor. But he can make a decision to kiss honest-to-goodness player safety right on the mouth (as one does) by ensuring that each and every fan and player knows and appreciates the gravity of concussions and that playing through them is a foolish, dangerous idea.

#BecauseItsYourBrain

 

By day, Clare Hutchinson works for the betterment of mankind. By night, she coaches a game based on a children’s book series. She’s also a fan of hockey and more specifically Erik Karlsson. She can be found on Twitter at mcollinknight.

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4 comments

  1. Clare – this is excellent, thoughtful and brilliant. Though I think pk subban was not holding weiss to keep him up (weiss walked off the ice). He was restraining him from retaliating and drawing a stupid penalty. Subban was an example of entusiasm, class and intelligent restraint in all 3 series.

    Like

  2. Clare, awesome article, but the elephant (probably concussed)in the room, is how do we eliminated as much head contact as possible from the game? I say Olympic sized ice in the “show” would help more than rule changes and time-outs in the quiet room.

    Like

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