Concussion in Sports

February 7, 2012

I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out. – Rodney Dangerfield

Recent headlines spotlighting athletes with concussions have helped raise awareness about how they are treated—or not.

Why are sports-related concussions such a problem?

The Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services reviewed the issue of violence in sports as early as 1974. The report of William R. McMurtry, Q.C., Investigation and Inquiry into Violence in Amateur Hockey, includes a quote by Dave “The Hammer” Schultz of the Philadelphia Flyers on page 5: “I’m more valuable in the penalty box than I am sitting on the bench…”

Most sports leagues have protocols meant to protect athletes from brain trauma. But according to a December 12, 2011, article in CBS Sporting News, Determined players circumventing NFL efforts on concussions, these protocols have too many loopholes. While teams offer treatment, players feel pressure to perform, fearing they will lose their jobs or let their teams down if they acknowledge their concussions and seek proper treatment. As a result, concussed athletes routinely underreport problems or avoid essential treatment.

Athletes’ concerns about their careers are justifiable. Unfortunately for both players and fans who appreciate skilful teamwork and play, glorification of violence and confusion between genuine heroism versus pointless self-martyrdom has plagued both professional and amateur sports. According to The Province’s December 20, 2011, article, Fighting is part of hockey, fans argue, fans are adamant that they expect violence for their entertainment dollars: “It’s not freakin’ ballet class.”

What will it take to change the casualty rate?

David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail has some excellent preventive suggestions in his January 8, 2012, article, Hockey desperately needs a concussion cure. His ideas include changes to sports culture, equipment, game rules, and violence management, as well as having and using an effective treatment protocol. But what will motivate leagues to implement change?

Player lawsuits such as the one launched last year by 21 NFL players against their league for allowing conditions that left them permanently disabled may help change the future of sports. If the athletes succeed, the substantial costs paid by leagues to complainants will be transferred to ticket prices. Will fans still want the violence if they have to pay more for its consequences?

I’d rather fight than score. – Dave Schultz