Brain Injuries – the hidden damage

December 4, 2012
A bodycheck along the boards

Twenty years from now, probably less, we will look back on brain injuries in sport and wonder how we could have allowed this kind of harm come to our kids. Today though, we are content to refer to brain injuries as “getting your bell rung” or “seeing stars” or some other euphemism which trivializes and minimizes the harm that a hit to the head can cause. Ten years ago we might have pleaded ignorance. We didn’t know the medical evidence about the damage, much of it irreparable, that these blows to our children’s heads were causing. Today we have the medical evidence.

Just yesterday, research results from a Toronto study lead by Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital, indicated that rule changes that restrict body checking can significantly reduce hockey injuries like concussions. The study, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, indicated that up to a quarter of hockey players aged nine to 16 suffer a concussion in a single season. Put your child in hockey and there is a one in four chance they will have a brain injury every season they play. The study points a way forward though through rule changes that alter the culture of the sport.

Changing the culture of our sports – by changing the rules and providing incentives for play that highlights respect and fairness – takes time. But change is possible. It starts with what we value. Do we value the health of our children’s brains or do we value aggressive behaviour even if it results in brain injuries?

Years ago we used to hear advocates of smoking say, “My grandfather smoked two packs a day and was never sick a day in his life.” Today we hear, “I had my bell rung when I played and it never hurt me, made me tougher.”

Change is possible. Let’s start by accepting the medical facts and stop using euphemisms and call them what they are: brain injuries. And, just as you wouldn’t send your child back out to play with a bone fracture or torn muscle, let’s stop sending them back out to play with brain injuries.