November 28 2013 09:42AM
On Monday ten former NHL players filed a class action lawsuit against the NHL for concussions they suffered while playing hockey. One more player has since joined. If you haven’t seen it in its entirety, you can check it out here.
I have no idea what the gentleman that played the game in the decades before me went through. I don't know what the medical protocols were for guys concussed or how medically informed they were, way back when.
I don’t even know if the NHL knew. That’s the biggest question in all of this.
In the 70’s, 80’s and mid 90’s, it’s very reasonable to believe players may not have known what a concussion was or the severity of a concussion. The information and education may not have been there.
If it was, maybe some guys wouldn’t have tried to play through it. Perhaps they would have gone to a trainer if they knew more. Perhaps they wouldn’t have just sniffed that smelling salt and hopped back over the boards.
From what I gather, the players will have to prove the NHL knowingly withheld medical information about concussions and the long term effects of it. Your guess is as good as mine and it will be interesting to see how this all play’s out.
My playing days were long after the guys currently named in the lawsuit. I played in a different time, but over the course of my junior and professional career I felt concussion protocol and education was handled well for me personally.
In 1998 at sixteen years old I began my Western Hockey League career with the Moose Jaw Warriors. In 2002 I suffered my first diagnosed concussion. It was an eye opening experience to say the least.
We were in Brandon, Manitoba, playing the Wheatkings and sixteen seconds into the game Jordin Tootoo caught me with what would now be an illegal hit. He came from the backside and just clipped my chin with his shoulder. I went down on one knee and then skated to the bench on my own. I was escorted to the dressing room shortly thereafter.
At the time I didn’t think it was a penalty because it wasn’t, but he was absolutely trying to hurt me. That was hockey and I was fine with it because It was within the rules. I was mad at myself for not seeing him and obviously hoped to seek some form of retribution in the future.
OUT OF IT
I say all this, only after watching video of the play. I was not knocked unconscious, but I don't recall anything from the sixteen second mark of the first period until about 2 hours outside of Moose Jaw on our way home after the game. That's approximately 5-6 hours.
I'll never forget the moment when I realized what was happening. We were at the back of the bus and I asked the boys what happened? That was followed by some eye rolls, a few chuckles and someone saying “just read your damn note”
I looked down and on my lap there was a piece of paper with 3 things written on it.
1. Tootoo knocked you out with a hit 16 seconds in
2. Yes someone fought him
3. You called your parents
My memory kept resetting. Brandon, Manitoba was a four hour bus ride from Moose Jaw and I asked the same questions every five minutes. I was the most annoying person in the world. When I finally remember calling my mom she was very upset and told me I had called her close to twenty times, as if I had never spoke to her before.
I then reassured my parents I was back on this planet and that I had a headache, but felt ok.
RECOVERY PROTOCOL CIRCA 2002
When I got to my billets house, one of them had to monitor my sleep that night. I recall not being allowed to do anything until I was symptom free for a week. I had headaches for a couple days but then things subsided. I remember having to visit our team doctor several times before I was cleared to practice and then play.
Even back then I felt like the concussion was treated properly to my knowledge. Before I was allowed back on the ice, I was made aware that repeated concussions could be troublesome for the brain. If there was any doubt that I didn’t grasp that, my parents made sure I did. There was great concern of the severity of the hit and I needed to convince them as well as the doctor I was ok before returning.
During my pro career, I can think of a few times where I had my "bell rung" (This clip being one of them, let it run to about the 12 second mark, then enjoy).
It felt like getting struck by lightning (I’ve never been struck by lightning). The sound in the building would go out; my vision was spotty and almost like looking through a cracked windshield. After a minute or two, everything was fine. Studies have revealed those are probably concussions as well.
I went 11 years before taking another serious blow and it was handled almost the exact same as my concussion back in 2002.
My season ended this year in March with a punch to the temple and the similar “bell rung” feeling as I skated to the penalty box. I knew something was wrong but I assumed it would subside. I came out of the box and played the next shift. I even played a couple more after that. When nothing changed, I left the game.
Every team and every trainer is different. Just because I haven’t felt mislead in my years doesn’t mean other players couldn’t have been.
However, if I had not approached my trainer in that game and told him of my symptoms, he wouldn’t have ever known. How could he? If I wasn’t wobbling around or flat on my back unconscious, how would anyone else know?
The onus was on me to tell him. I knew this one was a little worse than other times and eventually sought help. If I didn’t, I have no one else to blame but myself.
What bothers me in the lawsuit is that it tries to tear down things in the sport to near present day that everyone playing it accepted. I feel terrible for the players that are struggling today and if they were misled and shoveled back over the boards, I hope they are compensated.
Its one thing to be uneducated back then and feel wronged if you believe information was withheld, but players always knew the rules.
The lawsuit talks about how players were forced to retire in the late 1990’s to 2011 because the NHL refused to change the head targeting hits or ban fighting and actually got rid of obstruction to make it more dangerous. I disagree.
Those were the rules of the game. No one forced us to play hockey. Getting hurt had to of been an assumed risk based on the rules of the game.
Thankfully those players were educated enough to stop playing and prevent further damage to their brains.
The game is dangerous, it’s fast and it’s violent. That’s also what makes it so great to watch and play. In the last few years there has been more information released about the cause and effects of repeated head blows and CTE. It’s very sad and scary, no question.
Even with all that, I have yet to see a healthy player walk away from the game in fear of getting hurt. Of course certain players that have suffered concussions and haven't returned to play are a different story, but no one healthy that I know of has said “you know what, my love for this game is not enough for the risk of long term affects.”
All Doctors and the NHL can do is continue to educate the players. Continue to encourage small changes that help make it safer, but I think the players and the people within the game should decide how rough the game is. They are the one’s playing.
I’m still suffering from post-concussion symptoms and at times it’s scary to think about what lies ahead, but things are improving. I have aches and pains just like most that played for a long time, but I don't feel like I didn't understand the risks. I knew full well what I was getting into.
For 27 years I got to do something that I loved and to the absolute fullest. I have zero regrets about that. I would do it all again tomorrow if I could because it’s the best game on earth.
I can't speak for other players but I have to assume to continually put their body on the line, many feel the same way.