According to TSN, Cornwall River Kings defenceman Sasha Pokulok has filed a lawsuit against the NHL alleging that three in 10 retired players, will have some form of brain damage due to concussions or other head injuries. The suit refers to the recent NFL case as well where compensation was paid out. It references some reports that football and hockey players get concussions at roughly the same average rate. (Click picture at the bottom to see TSN article)
I have a few thoughts on the matter and have not yet decided where I firmly stand since there are valid arguments from both side of this.
My first thought is you should know better, even as an 18 year old, that any kind of head trauma can have some long term effects if you continue to engage in an activity that may lead to similar or worse injuries. You only need to touch a hot element once to know to not do it again. It’s common sense stuff that we all should possess.
My second thought is, despite common sense, the culture that I am led to believe through media reports and interviews I have seen from former players is that there is a culture in the pro ranks that has many athletes put that common sense aside in order to “make the cut”. The fear of appearing weak and not wanting to sacrifice yourself for the team or your teammates. The fear that if you don’t step up now there are guys that will do it for you and take your spot. Play through the pain and show them what you’re made of regardless of what might happen with another hit to the head…BE A MAN!
Despite what the NHL and other high level leagues are doing and saying to address this issue, I feel that culture still exists. You see the penalties, fines and suspensions based on flagrant hits to the head and they are laughable. My dad used to advocate for a suspension for as long as the player is out injured. That might make someone think twice about a head shot. Sure there are some accidental contacts, I get it, but the epidemic of concussions is not the result of a string of accidental contact. More needs to be done to change that culture.
So, at this point, I am still not on either side. I can picture Pokulok as a young 1st round prospect, dealing with a head injury, but also desperate to make “the show” to want to play through pain and the team letting him to test his mettle. The finger can be pointed both ways here. Pokulok should of not dressed to protect himself and the team should have scratched him to protect their young prospect.
The only conclusion I can come to is that the only way the culture changes is if the “safety first” message begins at the minor league levels and kids get schooled on being cautious at a young age. Many parents now do not want their kids in hockey, or football for that matter, due to the fear of head injuries. I get it, but if kids are taught to properly hit and get hit young enough, good habits can be created. Of course there will be some who make bad decisions and throw a dirty hit, but the punishment needs to be strict for incident number one even if the kid is 13 or 14. Parents play a huge role in the development of their young athlete and influence them greatly as they are learning their sport, so we can all do something.
Despite the advances in protective gear there continues to be concussion after concussion. It comes down to the players and the personnel to make better decisions. Will a successful lawsuit change that current culture, I doubt it, but maybe there is a chance to make a difference with the up and coming generation. This is one of those cases where this discussion will continue for a long time. I think we can all agree that the finger pointing has to stop somewhere and we need to identify and address the root cause(s).