Career Threatening Injuries – Concussions
Today I got a call that was not fun. One of my favorite clients and until the start of this season a great draft NHL prospect called to say that at 17 years of age, it looks like he has to retire. His first BCHL game of the season resulted in a concussion, his 5th and the conclusion from his physician is that his career is over. This brings an end to a promising career of a top WHL draft pick who had Ivy League NCAA aspirations and opportunities.
When will we as a hockey community begin to address our culture of romanticizing ‘grit’, ‘manliness’ and playing through pain. I grew up like most generations before and following me hearing of Bobby Baun in 1964 scoring in OT for the Maple Leafs to force a game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals. More recently, Nick Bonino played two periods of Stanley Cup Final hockey on a broken leg. His tibia was broken all the way through and he was celebrated as ‘A true hockey player.’ Every generation takes pride in fighting through the pain and going beyond normal safety and health concerns to help the team. Brooks Laich’s comments on NPR sum this situation up perfectly. After he threw his body down to block a 90-mph missile in an NHL game for Washington even though the block hobbled him, he managed to drag himself off the ice and onto the bench. “It’s kind of a code in hockey that you don’t lay on the ice,” Laich said. “It makes you kind of look like a wussie a little bit. You know, something I’ve always tried to do is if you’re hurt or something, get off the ice and let the game continue.” This was 2008 but this hockey mentality hasn’t changed or evolved from the days of Bobby Baun to today.
Heck I even played on a broken foot in a playoff game inspired by the past which has resulted in lifelong foot problems. Heck, in my first minor professional season, I had completely destroyed the ligaments in my left wrist in the preseason and could barely hold my stick. But I wasn’t going to miss my shot so the team doctors’ practical solution was to give me a small dose of Morphine before each game to dull the pain. I loved hockey and I was chasing the dream, we all know more people who have suffered far more and far worse than my quaint examples.
It is said that the contemporary athlete knows and takes care of their bodies better than in the past, but with the devastating effect of concussions, are we doing enough? Why do we not object more strenuously to the draconian and almost sadomasochistic culture of hockey to play through brutal and debilitating injuries in the name of character and toughness?
I hated seeing my client and friend miss out on a bright future in hockey. I should have done more, we all should do more.