Protecting the Players: Concussion Protocol

In light of recent events between Boston Bruins Charlie McAvoy and Columbus Blue Jackets Josh Anderson, fans and reporters have been more vocal about the issues with the NHL’s concussion protocol.

During the game, McAvoy and Anderson collided. McAvoy, coming in contact with Anderson’s head, sent him down to the ice. Anderson went through the league’s concussion protocol and returned to the game in the 3rd period. McAvoy served his time in the box and was later handed a 1 game suspension heading into the 3rd round. The question still remains: is the concussion protocol method enough to protect athletes?

My standpoint: no, it’s not enough.

According to NHLPA Concussion Protocol, “Players who are diagnosed with a concussion after the acute evaluation shall not return to play or to practice on the same day, irrespective of the resolution of all concussion symptoms. If, after the evaluation noted above the Club Physician determines that the Player is not diagnosed with a concussion, the Player may return to play at the physician’s discretion.” This clearly states that had Anderson, or any other player subjected to concussion protocol, been diagnosed with a concussion prior to rigorous testing, they would not be permitted to return to the game or practice. Given that each club has professional medical staff, and following additions to the protocol in the past few seasons, and entire medical team monitoring games from an alternate location, the wellbeing of the player appears to be their greatest concern. But what you don’t see is the repetition and repercussions later in life because of traumatic brain injuries, and the level to which these athletes are tested before returning to a game.

As an athlete, the motivation to stay in a game is something otherworldly. The player will want to return to the game, especially a playoff game, regardless of their relative comfort. Anderson stated after the game that during the 3rd period he wasn’t feeling all too great. He stayed in the game regardless, desiring to finish out the series with his team. It makes sense, that he would want to get back on the ice. But should he?

It’s a no-brainer. No, absolutely not.

In professional sports, the issue of repetitive concussions is a large one, and the NHL is no different. With athletes moving at high speeds in an impact sport, there are bound to be health consequences. One of the most prevalent, and the most dangerous, is concussions. Increasing numbers of former NHL players are found to have Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that is undiagnosable in a live person caused by repetitive brain injuries that can appear years after the injuries themselves. This condition often leads to dementia and the heightened risk of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

Long-time NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stated that he sees no connection between conditions such as CTE and the dangers of a contact sport. He refuses to instate a zero-tolerance policy on head contact and maintains his age-old opinions about fighting, hockey hits, and other things of the sort. Instead of choosing to protect the athletes in an ever-changing sport, he sticks to the old-time hockey viewpoints that should not apply to the hockey of today. The NHLPA concussion protocol requires a few simple tests to return to a game, not nearly enough to define and recognize the finer points of concussive or subconcussive contact.

So what can the league do to deter these kinds of issues going forward?

For starters, a more finely trained medical staff and a more extensive concussion protocol. If there is any question that the player has sustained head trauma, he should be immediately removed from the game or practice and placed into a program with trained neurological professionals and rehabilitative specialists in order to assure his brain has not and will not be severely affected in the future. No matter the inconvenience to the club or to the team, the health of an athlete should always be the primary concern. For players that do sustain mild, moderate, or severe concussions, there is again the route of trained therapeutic professionals that will be able to assure the best possible care for the injured player. Concussions and head injuries are almost unavoidable in a sport like hockey, but steps to prevent and to properly treat them would be leaps and bounds in the betterment of the players’ health both currently and in the future.

CTE and concussions can have more long-term effects than what meets the eye. Even years later, people that suffer from conditions like CTE suffer from memory loss, light sensitivity, trouble with motor function and balance, slurred speech, heightened aggression, depression that leads to suicidal tendencies, and even a decreased lifespan. If the league stands by and watches as their players being mistreated and allowed to suffer through symptoms like these, players will continue to be tormented all throughout their life simply for choosing to pursue a sport they love.

So, should the NHL watch as their players are constantly subjected to concussive and subconcussive contact with unthinkable consequences, or should they act in order to improve the safety of their league and the players within it?

If you would like to learn more about CTE and the consequences of repetitive head trauma, please visit this site.

Cover photo retrieved from sbnation.com

Article by Tess Garchinsky (@flyersnbuckets)

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