Monday, January 18, 2010

An Open Letter to Sports Fans from The Voice about Concussions...

All hockey fans love a good, clean body check. There is nothing like a great hip-check or a bone crunching collision in the neutral zone - if it is delivered within the rules. We have all stood and cheered when someone is stopped in their tracks. However, somewhere along the way, players lost sight of the difference between a good hit and racing at 100 miles per hour to devastate an opponent that is unaware of what is about to happen to him.

I am fortunate in my line of work, besides sharing my opinions as a sports columnist; I sometimes get to interview some pretty big names from the world of sports. The issue of concussions came to my attention when the Chris Benoit tragedy occurred (for the first time, I will admit in public I grew up watching wrestling and loved Benoit’s mastery of the technical holds), and the Team 1200 in Ottawa brought Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) co-founder Chris Nowinski on air to discuss the possibility that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (a build up of a protein called Tau that is released in the brain when a concussion occurs) led to the Benoit tragedy. Nowinski, a former Harvard graduate, University football player and WWE wrestler whose career was ended due to multiple concussions, is part of the leading edge of research, along with Boston University, into the effects of repeated head trauma. In Benoit’s case, he had the dementia of an 80 or 90-year-old Alzheimer patient when he attacked his family and committed suicide.

As I ventured into this career (for numerous reasons, not the high rate of pay that’s for sure), I had the pleasure of interviewing Nowinski myself. After speaking with him in June of 2009, it led to a follow up conversation with retired NHL player Keith Primeau. After his career was cut short by multiple concussions, Primeau began working with the SLI to further the research into the effects of head trauma in hockey. I realize not everyone can call Primeau or Nowinski to chat, so that is why I share my thoughts today... When I asked both men in the interviews how there health was now, both let out a long exhale and said, “Better now, thanks...”

Their answers brought me out of “reporter mode” and into the human side of sports. These men suffered through headaches, memory loss, dizziness, depression and numerous other issues for four or five years. It is only now that they are returning to a normal way of life. I was momentarily shaken when I heard their answers, I cannot explain why, but their answers reached right into the core of my being. Here were two men that we all cheered for over the years and hearing the relief in their voices when they said they were doing better was clearly evident. I am certain that both men and their families have lived through a health nightmare, as have many others.

As a sports fan, as well as being a columnist, I told Nowinski and Primeau I would do all that I can through The Voice of Sport to help raise awareness... And here we are today, on the heels of yet another absolutely uncalled for hit to the head of Quebec Remparts player Mikael Tam. When will this all end? When someone dies on the ice? Well folks, we have almost witnessed that several times this season in the OHL, NHL and now in the QMJHL. It is time as sports fans to stop and think for a moment, let it sink in - a concussion is a brain injury! It is not something to shrug off or think nothing of; it is your brain being rattled so hard within your skull that your brain swells.

It is beyond time to send a message to the sports leagues of the world, as sports fans - we do not want to witness this carnage any more. Later in the week, I will delve further into the topic of why players feel the need to deliver these careless hits, but for today, I only wanted to share my thoughts and perhaps plead with you all - help do something, say something, anything... I do not have all the answers but I implore you to reflect on these head injuries. Many athletes afflicted with CTE have committed suicide because they have become paranoid and cannot decipher right from wrong, their minds clouded by injury. I must ask the question, who is there for these players after they are forced out of the games they love to play because a reckless young man tried to make a name for himself or get on the highlight reel?

Sometimes I love the world of sports; sometimes I am saddened by it... today I am saddened to see a young man lying on the ice, convulsing, because someone else was not thinking. What do you think folks? Drop me a line or send me a message on Twitter... Have a great sports day everyone.

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