It’s just a mild traumatic brain injury…suck it up.

It’s just a mild traumatic brain injury…suck it up.

I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the words “head-shot”, or “hide his helmet” from sports talk show hosts and analysts in the past two years. Concussions and head injuries are a serious issue, in three of the four major sports. And even though Gary Bettman has tried his best to ruin the NHL, I’m still putting it in with the ‘major sports’. Baseball has had to change some rules for protecting catchers and runners. Basketball rarely lists “head” as a reason for missing a game and NASCAR has yet to permeate ALL North American households.

In 2001, a group of experts called the “Concussion in Sport Group” defined concussion as “a complex pathophysiological process affecting the brain, induced by traumatic biomechanical forces.” They agreed that concussions will involve a temporary impairment of neurological function which should quickly resolve itself, and that neuro-imaging normally shows no “gross structural changes” to the brain as the result of the condition. Yeah, that sounds encouraging.

I found out that USA Today actually provides a running count of the NHL players who have been concussed this year. (tinyurl.com/lxlpn5t) I was floored at how high the number was. Several years ago, after a huge hit to the head, the player would be barely conscious and lying on the ice. Sometimes a stretcher is brought out, and he is carried off. The media makes a huge deal out of the hit, trying to determine if it was “legal”, and the player is diagnosed. There is no question about his injury, his status, or his ability to play. The doctors would rule him ineligible and the team would have to replace him for at least a game or two.

Old-time hardliners in hockey will say that these hits have been around since the inception of the game. NBC and CBC ‘analyst’ Mike Milbury consistently argues that these hits are nothing that didn’t occur when he was playing. Sorry Mike, when you played the average weight of the player was about 180 pounds soaked with sweat, and you could hit fans with shoes. Now they AVERAGE 225lbs. And that is without the bullet-proof armor-like equipment they are wearing.

When a guy the size of Eric Lindros gets knocked loopy from a hit, you know the physics of that impact must have been immense. Unfortunately, this happened to him more than once and forced him into retirement. The players are bigger, faster, and stronger. It is not even close to the game you played, Mike, and maybe that old-time line of thinking is why no one will hire you as a coach again.

The NFL also has a running count on “theconcussionblog.com”. Obviously, football has seen more than its’ fair share of “head-related/concussion” injuries. In football, every play is hard hitting. Guys are smashing helmets constantly. But as we have seen, sometimes it’s more than just a bump on the noggin. They get helped off the field and usually do not play the remainder of THAT game.

I say ‘usually’, because this is where the two sports differ: the mentality of the injured player, and the progress being made by the leagues in protecting their athlete. In football, you have to be some big tough guy who likes to play with pain and suffering, and will do anything to help his team. I have listened to all the former NFL players on the sports channels talk about how they would do anything to get back on the field, and the only thing that would stop them is when someone would “hide their helmet”. Nobody was questioning their toughness. They just knew it was best that the player sit on the bench for the remainder of that game.

ESPN analysts Merril Hoge and Trent Dilfer had to retire because of multiple concussions. As did Chris “all he does is catch touchdowns” Carter. These were top players who thought they were tough guys. Now they know how badly they could have hurt themselves. And with most, it takes TWO visits to the doctor and an ugly painted picture of their future to get it through their concussed skulls.

A few years ago, Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers was injured. He was tackled and took a knee to the back of the head. This rendered him unable to play the rest of that game, and he looked awfully groggy on the sidelines. However, during the week he practiced with the team, and was evaluated by independent “league” doctors who considered him symptom free. The team was ready to go with Big Ben starting in their biggest game of the year against Baltimore.

However, on Saturday, Ben noticed he wasn’t quite right. He self-reported this to the team docs, and they shut him down. This put the third string QB in for the game, as QB number two was also injured. In the end, the Steelers lost in overtime, potentially costing them a playoff berth. At the end of the game, one of the best and most respected players on the Steelers, Hines Ward, called Ben out on how “tough” he really is for not playing through the injury.

Hines Ward needs to shut up, as does anyone else questioning the validity of the repercussions of a head injury. The old days are gone Hines. Listen to the former players who are now analysts. They keep talking about how they played through it, but now know they should not have, due to the serious neurological issues these concussions cause. We now have the technology to diagnose these problems, and should follow the advice of professional medical help. We think we live in a more advanced world; a world where people should know better and machismo isn’t the way to go. But these guys still don’t seem to get it. They still feel the need to prove themselves, even though they know it may cost them a viable future.

Both the NHL and NFL will deal with this serious issue in its’ own way. The NHL has formed a committee to investigate how to reduce the number of “head-shots”. The “Messier Project” has tried to develop a newer, safer helmet for the NHL players to wear. No one wants to remove physical contact from the fastest sport on ice, but adjustments have to be made in the player’s thinking. Clean, open-ice hits while catching the other player with the puck having his head down, are sometimes the most dramatic moments of a game. And they make for great highlights. Most of the time, the player who was hit gets back up, and continues on in the game having learned his lesson. It’s the few times where lives can be changed that we need to be concerned about.

The NFL will have a harder time. Every week coaches are trying to screw with the injury report system. I’m a Patriots fan, and I know that my team is one of the worst for it. But, it has reached the point where the league is going to have to step in and mandate that any player that is deemed to have a “concussion-related injury” must sit out at least one game. If nothing else, that rule would be to protect that player. Again, every play is very physical. Helmets are smashing on every snap of the ball, and players still feel it necessary to prove how tough they are by playing through pain. Changing a rule is easy, but changing the ingrained mindset of a player is completely different.

I liken this attitude to the use of instant replay in baseball. Hard-line, old time fans of that game refuse to admit that it is a good thing. Heck, they’ve been getting calls wrong for a hundred years, why change it now? The simple answer to that is: because we can. We have the technology to prove that something is wrong, and needs to be corrected. Put away your testosterone and machismo, before someone grabs your helmet and makes you sit down. They are trying to allow you to be able to SPELL helmet in your later years.

In the meantime, I’m listed as “day-to-day”.

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About Darin A. Ramsay

Devoted & doting husband, and loving, stay at home Dad for my super 5-year old daughter. I'm passionate about who I love, and what I write. I am an independent sports analyst/writer, as well I opine prophetic on different topics as I see fit. I am forever a proud Patriots, Avalanche, Tigers, Spurs, Miami Hurricanes football, and Arizona Wildcat basketball fan.
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