We are at the cross roads in sports, specificall team contact sports. It has become apparent that due to medical research into concussions and other collision conditions the good old rough and tumble of yesteryear is disappearing.
Fans and officials are lamenting the change in their sports, others are reluctantly understanding of the changes, and there are those that want their leagues to do more to protect their players.
The challenge for the administration of these sports is to improve player safety without sacrificing the heart and soul of their sport.
One of the thrills of watching contact sports is the courage of the players. Putting their body on the line in situations we as amateurs do not. There is no lying; the whack of body on body contact draws us into the contest.
There is a cost to these thrills, injuries. As an old semi pro athlete I have gone through my fair share of injuries and I know in my later years I am going to pay for them with arthritis however I will still be in control of my mind.
As an epileptic I have an interest in the brain and how it works. Thus the way the NHL, AFL, NRL, and NFL approach their processes handling concussion has a bigger significance than most.
The question for all of these sports is where to start? Do you change the rules in the playing arena, change protocols in the medical room or change protocols in the recovery process. Either way you look at it, there is no simple answer.
The NFL had its hand forced via a lawsuit, the NHL I believe is heading into a similar situation. The AFL and NRL could find itself at the same point in 15 years with players from the 70s and 80s possibly looking at their quality of life falling away due to symptoms of post concussion syndrome.
Hitting this decade all four of these sports have made varying attempts to protect the head of the ‘active’ player.
Changes in equipment in the NFL, changes to tackling in the NRL, the ‘bump’ in the AFL has been modified, and in the NHL a stiffening of the interpretation on roughing and charging have been used to help combat concussions.
However these changes are not enough. The work done away from the game is just as important, when contact is made what procedures and being undertaken to diagnose the players’ condition. What standards have been set to ensure the player cannot ‘cheat’ his way back into the game.
One of my criticisms, well it could be a concern more so, is sports culture of battling through the injury. Players want to play, if there is a sniff of getting back out there, they are going to say they're good to go.
All four of the sports spoken about in this piece have a negative culture towards those players who do not fight through the injury. There is also many a heroic story of players fighting through broken ribs, and punctured lungs.
Due to these folk law stories of heroism can you really expect a player to say no when asked if he is ‘good to go’ after a hit to the head.
How strict and strongly the medical staff stick to their protocols is what is going to avoid continuing post concussion syndrome issues later in life.
I do feel for the doctors having to apply these protocols, you have a player wanting to get back on the ice, coaching staff screaming for an update, how easy would it be to give the all clear when the player is completing their test 85% right?
The players may not like it at age 25, but at 45 when they can remember their best years playing, their children growing up they should be thankful the medical staff stood firm and held to their protocols.
At the moment Keith Primeau is down in Australia coaching in the international ice hockey spectacular, he is also bringing a greater awareness to concussions. Follow Keith here, and his foundation here.