Friday, 14 May 2010

They Make Good Points

With yesterday's announcement that Vancouver's Willie Mitchell had spoken out against the NHL's disciplinary policy regarding how players are punished for delivering dangerous hits to the head, I received an email from a reader who asked if she could add some information to HBIC. Being that I'm an advocate for mandating some sort of rule that takes players to the woodshed for risking the life and well-being of another player with a check to the head, I thought this would be a great opportunity to allow Chelsea to have her say while I chime in on Mitchell's comments. After all, I've talked about how changes are needed time and time again, but it seems that no one is listening to me or to players with good ideas.

First, a little about Chelsea. To protect her privacy, I am withholding her last name, but she wrote me a brief biography to give you some perspective as to where she's coming from in her email. We'll start with Chelsea's biography, and then I'll post her email in its entirety.

Chelsea is an outreach representative for CareMeridian, a subacute care facility located throughout the Western United States for patients suffering from traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury or medical complexities, such as neuromuscular or congenital anomalies.
Now that you know a little about her insight as to her experiences with seeing people who live with brain trauma, here is her email to me. I think it carries a good message which I'll bring into context below with Mitchell's comments. Again, here's Chelsea.
Hockey and TBI

Hockey is arguably one of the most physical professional sports. Hockey players are constantly getting body checked, slammed into boards, falling to the ice, slapped by a stick, hit by a dense, speeding puck or getting punched during a fight. If that isn’t bad enough, hockey players take part in one of the longest regular seasons of any sport, effectively taking on harsher pain for a longer amount of time throughout the year. Risk of injury couldn’t be clearer as you all too commonly see hockey players missing their front two teeth. With all of the injuries that can occur, one of the most dangerous is a traumatic brain injury (TBI). A TBI is a silent injury that can cause harm to the mind and body of an individual. An injury to the head or brain can alter someone’s life and can even require long-term rehabilitation and care from a skilled nursing facility. These injuries are often far too common in the sport of hockey and if not properly treated can permanently leave a hockey player's life challenging than the game they play.

TBI is an injury that Philadelphia Flyers player Ian Laperriere knows all too well. In game 5 of an NHL playoff game with the New Jersey Devils, Laperriere took a slap shot to the face that immediately caused him to bleed excessively from the wound above his eye and lose sight. Laperriere was diagnosed with a brain contusion after having a MRI a few days later. While Laperriere may have originally thought that losing sight in one of his eyes was the worst of the two injuries, in reality the bigger concern could wind up being the long-term effects of the brain injury.

A concussions have been dismissed as minor injuries because the physical nature of most sports causes them to occur regularly, but, frequently occurring or not, they are still head injuries where the brain is forced to move violently within the skull and the way it functions could change permanently. When the brain moves in such a manner, it can bruise, bleed, and even tear, which can cause irreversible damage to the victim. For a sport like hockey, this type of injury is very common and unfortunately at times ignored. Many hockey players don't take into account the possible effects of the injury and because it might not seem like a serious problem exists at first, they keep on skating as if nothing occurred. Their unawareness of the injury makes the it so much more dangerous because a mild brain injury can turn into a life threatening injury in a very short period of time without seeking immediate medical treatment.

Studies by the National Academy of Neuropsychology's Sports Concussion Symposium in New York have shown that since 1997, 759 NHL players have been diagnosed with a concussion. Broken down, that averages out to 76 players per season and 31 concussions per 1,000 games of hockey. That is far too frequent of an occurrence for such a serious injury. It's a frightening statistic that should send up a red flag to hockey officials that actions need to be taken to further prevent this type of injury from occurring.

The best, and sometimes only, treatment for TBI is prevention. For the National Hockey League new rules are being considered that preserve the game but also help protect the players. Rule changes concerning blindside hits, rink size (which effects players space from each other and their proximity to walls), and stronger helmet requirements all have been considered to help curb TBI and its effects. This demonstrates that the NHL is aware of the seriousness of the injury and is taking proactive steps to help prevent it from happening.

Hockey is one of the most popular sports in North America and has millions of people participating in it every year. Unfortunately, the sport comes with the risk of a TBI. With the right awareness of the injury and the necessary precautions in place, the game should be able to continue with players excited to lace up their skates and enjoy it.
Well said, Chelsea.

That frightening moment in Ian Laperriere's career has essentially put his hockey life on hold while his face and brain mend themselves. While a slapshot to the face is slightly different than a check to the head, Chelsea's statistics don't lie: 759 players with concussions in 13 years is essentially the entire roster of the NHLPA over that time. 76 players per year means that more than two players per team are suffering concussions per team every single season. That, readers, is a scary thought when it comes to quality of life after hockey.

Willie Mitchell hasn't played any NHL hockey since January 16, 2010. On that night, he was checked from the side by Pittsburgh Penguin Evgeni Malkin, and he fell awkwardly into the boards. His head and shoulder made contact with the boards, and it appeared that Mitchell may have escaped serious injury as he was able to skate to the bench while Malkin went unpunished.

Some have said that it was a "good hockey hit", and I feel that Malkin's intent was not to injure Mitchell whatsoever. It was shoulder-to-shoulder, and Mitchell fell awkwardly, meaning that Malkin should not be punished. After all, you can't take hitting out of the game, and I believe in that mantra.

However, Mitchell went on record with Jason Botchford of The Province about how things need to change at the Ivory Tower NHL Offices in order for the NHL culture to change.

"I know Colin Campbell has a lot of relationships with general managers and owners and stuff like that," Mitchell told Botchford. "It's very tough to hand down decisions on matters like this when you're friends with people.

"It's like saying I have to discipline my teammates. It's too emotional. You can't always make the right decision."

Campbell, of course, has worked in some capacity for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Rockies, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings, and New York Rangers over his career. He has forged relationships with many players, executives, and general managers in that time, and Mitchell compared Campbell's relationships in hockey with his own. It would be very difficult to discipline the people that you've worked with and broke bread with for the last few decades.

Mitchell went on to criticize the NHL's head disciplinarian for basing fines and suspensions, if warranted, on the results of the hits rather than on the dangers of the hits.

"I am disappointed in the league, I'm disappointed in Colin Campbell," Mitchell said. "I am disappointed he didn't rule down anything on the play. That's his job. As we've seen, he's been very inconsistent in how he's handled himself in those situations. I think a lot of times he hands down suspensions and fines on results.

"I think that's the wrong thing to do."

I agree with Mitchell here. Far too often, we have seen players such as David Booth and Marc Savard receive brutal checks to the head, and the players that threw the checks nearly got away with murder. Mike Richards and Matt Cooke received no suspension for either hit, and it has led to some potential rule tweaks in this upcoming off-season. Instead, we see Campbell reacting by citing antiquated rules about "good hockey hits". Doesn't that seem wrong?

"I think we saw that this year, we saw that with players getting injured," Mitchell said. "The players have called for it where we want him to be more 'aggressive' you could say in these matters.

"What's it going to take? Someone hit from the behind where they are left lying on the ice dead? I hope not."

And that's where Chelsea's email comes into play. She sees how people struggle with brain trauma injuries everyday of her life. She sees how the quality of life for these people is put at risk by their injuries, and how the simplest of tasks become much more difficult when dealing with a brain injury. Yet the NHL and NHLPA continue to allow contact to the head, claiming those hits are rare and that offenders are punished.

I don't know about you, but it makes me scratch my head. Perhaps someone at the NHL Offices needs some head trauma of their own in the form of a smack upside the head. After knocking a little sense into their heads, we might see a little more sense coming from the NHL's head disciplinarian.

Godspeed, Willie Mitchell, in your recovery, and thank you to Chelsea for taking the time to email me with some very good information. If only the suits in New York were listening.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

medicare advantage 2012 said...

Concussion and repeated brain trauma according to research can be a cause of the onset of Alzheimer which can be fatal in the long run, NHL officers ought to know that.