Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The WHL and concussions: A mother cries out for help

Killian Hutt's season with the Swift Current Broncos came to an end
in Kamloops on Dec. 10.

(Photo by Murray Mitchell/Kamloops Daily News)
When Zdeno Chara ran Max Pacioretty into a turnbuckle in Montreal one night last week, who could have anticipated the aftermath?
Sheesh, even Air Canada and Via Rail got into the act, as did, predictably, the odd spotlight-seeking politician.
When things like this happen in places like Montreal and Boston, or Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the tendency in our little corner of the world is to yawn, shrug and move on.
But if you are a fan of this great game of ours, perhaps you should be concerned. Because the rules changed this month.
When Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy revealed that the brain of former NHL enforcer Bob Probert exhibited "the same degenerative disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy" that is connected to multiple concussions, the curtains were pulled back to reveal a whole new world.
Who in this generation could relate to CTE having been found in the brain of Reggie Fleming, who played in the NHL in the 1960s? Probert, though, is a different story. He’s recent. He’s more relevant.
That this news came with Sidney Crosby, the best player in the world, struggling with post-concussion syndrome only intensified the glare of the spotlight.
The WHL, if you haven’t noticed, isn’t a whole lot different than the NHL. Oh, the NHL’s players may be bigger, faster and more skilled, and they may get paid more, but the problems are the same.
And just like head shots and accompanying injuries are an epidemic in the NHL, they are an epidemic in the WHL.
In fact, a case can be made that concussions are more prevalent in the WHL than in the NHL.
No official numbers are available regarding the NHL, but the 30-team league has acknowledged that there have been about 80 players diagnosed with concussions this season.
The 22-team WHL’s weekly injury list, dated March 15, shows 11 players out with what are described as concussions or head injuries. That’s down from 21 the previous week. A study of this season’s 24 injury reports shows at least 97 instances in which a player has been shown as being out with a concussion or head injury. Eight players have twice been so injured, while one player appears to have had three head injuries.
The count also includes at least three players whose concussions have been season-ending.
And now the mother of a WHL player is wondering when enough is enough.
An email from her contains the subject line: Who killed Davey Moore?
———
Davey Moore, an American featherweight boxer, died of inoperable brain damage on March 25, 1963, four days after losing a bout at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Shortly after, Bob Dylan penned the ballad Who Killed Davey Moore?
“Who killed Davey Moore
“Why an’ what’s the reason for?”
During the course of the song, the referee, the angry crowd, Moore’s manager, the gambling man, the boxing writer and Moore’s opponent all deny complicity in the boxer’s death.
———
“I am the mother of a WHL player and I feel sick watching our children inflicting and receiving potentially life altering injuries and saying nothing,” she wrote.
This being hockey, of course, she asked for anonymity “in order not to damage my child’s chances.”
The email and subsequent communications reveal a woman who is heartbroken at what she is witnessing as hockey becomes more and more violent, although not in the bench-clearing ways of days of yore.
No, her son hasn’t suffered a concussion or head injury this season. But she has seen enough, just the same.
“The players work so hard to get to the WHL that we as parents are loathe to get in the way of their success,” she wrote. “So we stand by and watch a 19-year-old have a seizure on the ice in the name of entertainment for the crowd.
“Then a 16-year-old is being punched by a 19-year-old and the crowd is delighted.
“We all know this is not right. How can we as parents send our kids into this and not object to the failure of this league to adequately protect them? Nobody is protecting our children. These are not consenting adults with million dollar contracts and a players association.”
In Kamloops this season, we have watched as two players had their seasons ended by especially violent physical encounters.
First, on Dec. 10, Kamloops right-winger Jordan DePape drilled Swift Current forward Killian Hutt with a blind-side hit that drew a five-game suspension. Hutt went into convulsions, left the ice on a stretcher and spent a night in hospital. He was left with a severe concussion and, although he has skated, isn’t symptom free and won’t play again this season.
Then, on Feb. 4, Blazers defenceman Austin Madaisky was spun around and checked into the boards by Chilliwack Bruins defenceman Brandon Manning. Madaisky escaped a concussion but was left with a non-displaced fracture of the seventh cervicular vertebrae. Manning served a seven-game suspension; Madaisky continues to wear an Aspen collar and will for another couple of weeks. If the injury continues to heal properly, he will avoid surgery and will be back on the ice over the summer.
“When there is a spinal injury people will say, ‘That's hockey,’ ” the mother wrote. “But that's not true. These are preventable injuries and we are not even trying to prevent them; in fact, the WHL profits off them by catering to the bizarre tastes of some people in the crowd.
“This is not acceptable. These are our children. We are all responsible to them — parents, reporters, coaches, etc.
“They trust us and we betray that trust. When the consequences of those concussions hit home there will be no cheering crowds.”

(Gregg Drinnan is sports editor of The Daily News. He is at gdrinnan@kamloopsnews.ca, gdrinnan.blogspot.com and twitter.com/gdrinnan.)

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