The National Hockey league (NHL) has seen many concussions in its players in recent years. It is an injury that has ended the careers of many great players and its side effects plague many others afterwards. In this paper I aim to outline the effects that concussions can have on the player, such as headaches, nausea, amnesia and depression. Also, I will look at some of the causes of concussions in the NHL and some possible solutions to eliminate the problem. Some of the causes I will look include the current regulations, size of the equipment, fighting, and player denial. Concussions are common in most contact sports as they are in the NHL. They have become more common in the media over the past few years when star players have been on the receiving end. A recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal looks at concussions among National Hockey League players during regular season games. It gives a background of the injury and describes it.
A concussion is defined as a complex pathophysiologic process affecting the brain, induced by traumatic biomechanical force. Concussion results in a graded set of clinical syndromes that may or may not involve loss of consciousness or memory dysfunction. Concussion typically results in a functional disturbance with the rapid onset of short-lived impairment of neurologic function that resolves spontaneously. (pp.905) It has been estimated that the incidence could be as high as 20% of players per hockey team annually sustain concussions (Tator, 2009). A staggering statistic like this show there is a serious problem that needs to be looked at. The Effects
In the NHL many players have received several concussions. After a player gets his first concussion he is more susceptible to getting a second or third (Tator, 2009). In the case of players such as Pat Lafontaine, Paul Kariya and Eric Lindros this was so. Not only did they receive several concussions but the extent and severity of their concussions led to the end of their professional hockey careers. In Eric Lindros’s case, as well as numerous others, the concussions had some drastic side effects that changed his life. He developed anxiety that would keep him away from crowds. He would avoid airports, galas and any public crowds which were once a daily routine for a NHL superstar. One issue Lindros found, with having a concussion in the NHL, was talking about it. In an article in Maclean’s magazine titled “Concussions: the untold story”, Lindros said “talking about these these things-you don’t talk about these things….you are not going to look in the mirror and say, boy I’m depressed” (cited in Guli, 2011).
Attitudes such as this are very common in the NHL but have started to change over the past year. The 2010-2011 season was a big one for concussion awareness in the NHL. Its biggest star, Sidney Crosby, received a blow to the head in the winter classic and a hit from behind in his very next game on January 5 that left him out of the lineup until November 21, 2011. He experienced symptoms such as dizziness, sensitivity to light, nausea and tiredness (Benson, Meeuwisse, Rizos, Kang & Burke, 2011). The most common treatment for Crosby was rest. After a concussion your brain needs time to heel. There is no set timetable for a return. Some players can return in a couple of weeks and other may never. Crosby’s return only lasted a couple of games because the concussion symptoms returned. He was then out of the lineup until his recent returning on March 15 of this year. Having the NHL’s biggest star, Sidney Crosby, out for a year was bad for the game. But on the other side it did shed some much needed light on the concussion situation in the NHL. The Causes
For this paper I will look at five of the possible causes of concussions in the NHL. To start there are the rules. In previous years the league has been too lenient in situations where there were deliberate head shots and hits from behind. A suspension for a hit to the head would be somewhere in the range of two or three games. Early in the season the NHL hired a new sheriff; Brendan Shanahan. The good thing about Shanahan is that he is “not too far removed from playing“(Farber, 2011). He began his new job by handing down a 10 game suspension to a player for a deliberate head shot. Sending a message that actions such as this are not wanted or permitted in the NHL. Recently there have been changes to rules 41 and 48. “The most significant hockey upgrades for the season are a revamped Rule 48, which now penalizes all intentional or reckless hits to the head, and a tweaked Rule 41, which broadens the interpretation of boarding”(Farber, 2011). Since the changes to these rules the league has seen a decrease in concussion’s in these two areas.
In a stud The next cause for concussions is the equipment. Today’s equipment resembles a suit of armour. With both shoulder and elbow pads so large and hard it makes a normal player seem invincible. Along with the invincible feeling comes recklessness. Players are going around throwing elbows and shoulders to the head with no care for effects of their actions. I recently looked at a pair of my dad’s old shoulder pads from the 1960’s and put them next to a set that I purchased this year. The older set resembles a brassier while my new set is like a pullet proof vest on steroids. And the new equipment is very hard. It’s no wonder a blow to the head by such equipment could cause serious injury. A third cause for concussions is fighting. Fighting has been a big issue in the media with regards to professional hockey. The league is still reeling from the deaths of three players within 16 weeks. There was Derekn Boogard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien. These three men were enforcers in the NHL who fought frequently.
They grew accustom to receiving blows to the head. It is believed that the depression and anxiety symptoms they were experiencing may be linked to concussions. When long time tough guy, Bob Probert, suddenly died it was decided to donate his brain to science for research. The outcome of the findings showed that Probert suffered from a degenerative brain disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Over his career Probert banged his way through over 200 fights and…Suffered at least three concussions and struggled with substance abuse (Mick, 2011). The fourth issue with concussions in the NHL is player denial. For years players have been injured and suffering concussion like symptoms and remain playing while hiding the pain.
On numerous occasions players would lie to keep playing. Ian Laperriere is one such player. On April 22, 2010, while playing with the Philadelphia flyers, Laperriere took a slap shot to the face a suffered a concussion. The other problem for Laperriere was he was going to miss the rest of the playoffs. He was at home recovering from his concussion and watching his flyers beat the Bruins to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. Laperriere decided he was going to play. Still suffering from concussion symptoms he suited to play against the Canadians. In a Craig Custance article in The Sporting News, Laperriere said “Did I lie? I lied to the doctors in Pittsburgh. I lied to the trainers for sure. I did that, but trust me, there’s more (players) than everybody knows in the playoffs playing with concussions. Guys are doing that every year. They’ve done it in the past. They’ll do it again. It’s the nature of our sport”. It is attitudes like this that put player’s health at risk. For many NHL players “their identity since they were six or four has been hockey. And if you tell somebody you can’t do this anymore? I don’t know how many regular people have Plan Bs. I don’t know how many athletes have plan Bs” (Guli, 2011). Possible Solutions
Some possible solutions to the concussion problem include rule changes, eliminating fighting, modifying the current equipment and education players to get them to identify their concussion symptoms as soon as they are experienced. T The possible rule changes could include the old two line pass rule. The reinstatement of this rule could eliminate many of the open ice hits. The issue of eliminating fighting will be debated forever. It is proven that many professional hockey players that fight for a career, Bob Probert, experience concussions. Therefore, eliminating fighting would reduce the concussion caused by fighting. On the other side of the coin they could put back the instigator rule which could eliminate many cheap shots. If a player on Boston receives a cheap shot from a player on Dallas then the Dallas player will have to pay for it by fighting the enforcer of Boston. It’s the age old principle of players policing the game. The issue of large and hard equipment is currently being worked on by the league.
Former NHL defensemen, Mathieu Schneider, is now working on behalf of the NHLPA to help manufacturers develop higher density foam padding for elbow and shoulder pads, which would eliminate the hard plastic-a change that could be in place for next season. Finally the players themselves need to be educated. Most of the responsibility lies with the player. They have to come forward when experiencing concussion like symptoms. They have to be aware of issues that can occur when the symptoms are not immediately reported. If they can see how concussions have affected other players like Lindros, Primeau, Probert, etc…This may help. Concussions are likely to be part of the NHL for many years to come.
The chances of eliminated them all together are nil. It is a contact sport which experiences many injuries. My hope is that deliberate injuries that result in concussion, like head shots, need to be eliminated. The recommendations I have made could help. It is up to the players and the league to implement strategies such as these and make sure they are policed harshly. If it means longer suspensions then so be it. The NHL is a league is adored by hockey fans around the world. Eliminating concussions can only make the game better for the players and the fans.
Benson, B. W., Meeuwisse, W. H., Rizos, J., Kang, K., & Burke, C. (2011). A prospective study of
Concussions among National Hockey League players during regular season games: the
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Custance, C. (2011). When playing hurts, The Sporting News. Vol. 235(4), p44 Farber, M. (2011). It’s a whole new game. Sports Illustrated online. Retrieved from
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1191041/index.htm Guli, C. (2011). Concussions: the untold story, Macleans.ca. Retrieved from
http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/05/19/concussions-the-untold-story/ Mick, H. (2011). Probert suffered from degenerative brain disease, scientists. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved March 22, 2012 from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/concussions/nhler-bob-probert-suffered-from-degenerative-brain-disease-scientists-find/article1927734/ Tator, C. H. (2009). Concussions are Brain Injuries and Should be Taken Seriously. Canadian
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