Thursday, March 14, 2013

A father wonders what's to come for his son

If you have been following medical developments involving concussions and traumatic brain injuries, you are aware how much the science is changing.
It seems there are new developments and new information almost on a daily basis.
Through it all, however, a couple of things have become evident — every brain reacts differently to trauma and it only takes one injury to leave permanent damage.
If you are a hockey fan, you also will be aware that concussions aren’t disappearing from the landscape, not from the NHL and not from the WHL. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where you really do wonder what is going to have to happen before someone with some authority really takes charge.
The hockey community has been far too slow to react as the medical community continues to shine new light on what has become an enormous problem.
Yes, there always will be concussions in sports in which there is physical contact. But to experience in the area of 100 such brain injuries in a season, as happens in the WHL, is ludicrous.
Something needs to be done — and it needs to be done right now — because there are too many players and families out there who are suffering from something that could have been avoided.
Take, for instance, the case of one unnamed player who spent five seasons in the WHL. According to this player’s father, his son suffered two concussions in those five seasons; they were a year apart with the second one occurring in his fifth season.
“No others, none suspected, none even remotely overlooked in the five seasons he enjoyed in the WHL,” the father writes.
The player, having used up his junior eligibility, was to have played in a different league this season. It never happened.
The headaches started in July. Still, he was able to work through them. But he wasn’t able to get through his preseason testing with his new team. And then things started to get worse.
In his father’s words, there “was a decided and obvious behavioural change in him observed by several others, not just the nuclear family.”
The change has been devastating.
“Over the past few months, I have borne witness to my one-time honours student son’s downward spiral into a sometimes violent, angry, confused and unstable stranger,” the father writes. “My wife and I are near our wit’s end as we sit at home waiting for that next phone call or knock on the door.
“You know the one . . . ‘Hello, may I speak with Mr. . . ., this is the RCMP.’
“It is a conversation that generally ends with ‘and then he turned the gun on himself.’ That would effectively end life as my family now knows it.”
The family is working to save itself and the father admits there is progress.
“We have searched for and reached out to every resource available,” he writes, “and are seeing signs of improvement. It is a slow, unpredictable and oftentimes painful process.”
What is so terribly sad about all of this is that both concussions were preventable.
Both were the result of head shots — one of them from behind against a stanchion, the other from “a flying wing elbow to the head delivered while my son was neither in possession of the puck nor in any way able to protect himself.”
According to the father, both blows were delivered by repeat offenders, the first of them by someone who, as they say, is well known to the WHL office.
“The first player to run my son’s head through the end boards,” the father writes, “has been suspended more often than he has scored. His only value to his team is his unpredictability.”
Interestingly, the father refuses to point the finger of blame at the players. He likens them to being “loaded weapons.”
That, he writes, “would be too much like blaming the gun or the bullet in a shooting death.”
He chooses to look beyond the players and wonder: “Why are (these players) even in the league? Especially the multiple repeat offender?”
He then proceeds to answer his own question: “It is because the coaches and general managers, still emerging from the primordial muck we call the good old days, recognize what these players bring to the team — and therefore it is they who don’t respect the players. They are the ones loading the gun.”
The answer, as this parent sees it, is to get such players out of the league.
As the parent puts it: “If there is nowhere to play for players of this ilk, and particularly the repeat offender, this stuff will be gone as fast as a team meal following a road game.”
In the meantime, however, two parents weep for their son and what he has become, all because of two incidents in a game that has brought so much to them.
“I am genuinely frightened about what the future may hold for my son,” the father writes. “The day he played his first WHL game I was as excited and as proud as a dad can be.
“Through the game of hockey, my family has seen the world. My son has played for his country. He has played alongside present day NHLers and attended an NHL training camp as an 18-year-old.
“As a family our lives have been enriched by the experience in ways we cannot begin to measure.
“And I’d give it all back in a millisecond just to see my son healthy again.”

(Gregg Drinnan is sports editor of The Daily News. He is at

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