Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Hits Keep Coming - Will the Rome Hit on Horton Bring About Real Change?

I have received several emails and phone calls regarding my opinion of the Aaron Rome / Nathan Horton hit. During my career as a writer, I have been a strong proponent of stiffer suspensions and the need for hockey players and fans to change their attitudes when it comes to these devastating collisions. I do not advocate taking hitting out of the game, far from it. However, when it comes to head shots, there are no “ifs” anymore.

We know better now.

Much like the law requiring us all to wear a seat belt in our cars, a law that faced fierce opposition when first introduced but has saved countless lives since - when it comes to head injuries, ignorance is not bliss. The research into the long-term effects of head injuries conducted by groups like the Sports Legacy Institute has revealed an abundance of evidence and startling findings. Healthy young men and women, amateur and professional athletes, have had their lives changed forever by head injuries. Anxiety, memory loss, depression, dementia-type illnesses and in some cases, suicide, have been linked to concussions. The chemistry of our most vital organ changed forever in an instant. We can no longer say that we do not know the consequences.

As I have written on numerous occasions, head injuries from sports tend to be classified as either mild or at times as a severe concussion, reported alongside knee, groin or the vague “upper and lower” body injuries. All are significant injuries but not necessarily considered life altering. When the brain loses its ability to function properly, much of who we are is lost, never to return. That is an incredible price to pay for an opportunity to win a league championship.

When an injury of this magnitude happens in a car accident, it is a trauma to the brain, requiring close monitoring and an ample amount of time to heal. We hear all the time in the sports world, especially in hockey, that after a mild concussion a player is feeling better and is ready to return to action; at times, only days after sustaining a head injury. While they may feel better, their brain has not fully healed and studies suggest a minimum 30 days of recovery time is required to avoid a second and more debilitating head injury. Every injury to the brain is different and the amount of time required to recover fully will vary depending on the person and the severity of the injury, but a new minimum standard must be set. It becomes complicated when discussing professional athletes, as millions of dollars are often involved, but it is time to remove the bottom line from the equation, making a player’s life after the game of paramount importance.

I’m not sure the exact intention of the CBC’s new radar stat being used in the playoffs, which is showing players colliding with each other at close to 40 km/hr at times, but it offers some interesting insights. Statistics at the ICBC website (the main insurance provider in British Columbia) reveal that in a car accident at 50 km/hr, a 25-pound child not wearing a seat belt can be thrown forward with the same force as a 1,200-pound baby elephant. Imagine the forces at play when two grown men hurtle towards each other at the blueline. We have seen it numerous times and we now know the unfortunate results.

Much like wearing our seat belts, it may take several years for new rules to be developed and accepted by both the players and the fans but it is time to have a less short-term philosophy here and look at the long-term, bigger picture. While we used to marvel in awe at these devastating hits, now we know better; it is as simple as that. There is a life after hockey and other professional sports and it is time to stop gambling with the future health of our athletes. Perhaps that is the key to a change of attitude.

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