While the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) has investigated the debilitating concussion related injuries of former NFL players and wrestlers, the issue of concussions is not limited to these particular sports. The National Hockey League has certainly witnessed its share of concussions in recent years. Several current and former NHL players are now working with Chris Nowinski and the Sports Legacy Institute to search for solutions to gain insight and awareness. Will future research help shine the spotlight on concussions in hockey?
“It absolutely will put the spotlight on hockey,” stated Nowinski during his recent interview with Main Street. “Once we have looked at a brain of a former hockey player and get a better understanding of what the collisions do in that sport. It’s a different game, in that hits to the head are not a natural part of the game like they are in football. In football, they are unavoidable; in hockey, they are almost completely avoidable.”
One NHL player working with the Sports Legacy Institute is former Philadelphia Flyer’s captain Keith Primeau. A veteran of 15 years and 909 NHL games, Primeau’s career ended after receiving several concussions during his days on the ice. Suffering from post-concussion issues and looking for answers, he became aware of the SLI and their work.
“I think indirectly I had heard about the program through the original article that appeared in the New York Post or Times.” Primeau told Main Street. “I never really paid it much mind but I was doing an interview with a reporter in Western Canada and he was doing an article on post concussion and so forth and he mentioned to me again if I had heard of Chris' program.”
Making the decision to donate his brain to the SLI after he passes was not an easy one. Primeau stated in the interview that it took some “soul searching and contemplating” before he made his final decision.
Primeau explains, “Chris sent me some information on his programs and exactly what he was trying to accomplish and at that point I began cultivating in my own mind if it was suitable for me. Once I realized this was the direction I wanted to go, I broached the subject with my wife and got her approval and from there I spoke with my parents and siblings that I intended to donate my brain and basically that is what got us to the point where we are at today.”
“I felt that my brain has been damaged and I don't know to what extent but I applaud Chris' efforts and at some point, somebody needed to take a stand and begin to make a difference. Ultimately, my decision won't help my situation but down the road, it may help someone else's child. I feel very inspired to do it.”
While the NHL keeps statistics of all kinds, one important number that is unknown is how many careers have ended due to concussions. Asked if the league has a responsibility to its players to work with groups like the SLI, Primeau can speak from personal experience.
“I would like to think that there is another side to the business of professional hockey and that there would be a desire to stay connected or to understand just how severe the issue really is and how many players have lost or ended their careers because of head trauma and post-concussion. Whether that will ever happen or not, I am not sure. But yes, I sure would like to see it.”
Primeau recently joined the ECHL’s (East Coast Hockey League) Las Vegas Wranglers as a Special Assistant to the General Manager and Director of Player Development. His role with the hockey team will include scouting and recruiting, as well as evaluations and assessment of the team’s players. Like Nowinski, despite having his career cut short and dealing with serious health issues from his concussions, Primeau looks fondly upon his time in the NHL and has a positive attitude going forward.
“I was always very realistic about my career, it was only going to be a certain part of my life but I feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to play the game as long as I did. Absolutely, I have no regrets and as I said, I am extremely blessed.”
After a remarkable playing career, Keith Primeau is once again demonstrating the leadership that made him a valuable team member and captain in the NHL. His efforts and those of the Sports Legacy Institute have already raised concussion awareness to a new level and their research may one day save the lives of our young athletes. Have a great sports day everyone.