First, I’d like you to go to Netflix and watch a documentary called “Head Games”. It’s about brain damage due to contact sport. It talks about concussions in football, hockey, and boxing. And entertainment wrestling (not greco-roman wrestling). It’s an incredibly interesting and well-done documentary. One of the really good question it raises is why the only gridiron football league in the US that has non-contact practices is the NFL. Why developmental and minor league gridiron football leagues don’t implement and enforce a rule that of the 5 practices per week you may have as a team, only one may be full contact. Because full contact isn’t necessary at every practice.
I bring this up because in the fall, it was at a practice that The Captain sustained brain damage. He took a helmet-on-helmet hit with a team-mate and was out of the sport for three weeks. If you know anything about Canadian football, three weeks is over half the season. Immediately after the hit, he was disoriented and dizzy. He couldn’t walk right. He had memory lapses. We took him to the emergency room and to his family doctor.
His family doctor, who is a sports doctor, said “children should not play contact sports.”
I was a little shocked. I mean, I know there are inherent dangers in playing contact sport. The risk for injury is high. But I’d never heard an actual medical doctor say that children shouldn’t play contact sport at all. But he went on to say that in his opinion, contact sports for children under the age of 18 ought to be off the table, because kids’ brains are still developing so fast, and that kids in contact sports are guaranteed to sustain concussions the longer they stay involved. He went on to say he’s treated professional and semi-pro hockey players; professional and semi-pro football players, and that he has seen their injuries contribute, over the long term, to serious and chronic intellectual, emotional, and physical conditions.
The Captain and I talked things over with His Nibs and with the doctor, and after The Captain watched “Head Games”, he suggested that if he got another brain injury, he would be done with contact sports.
Fast forward to last night.
I understand that accidents happen. I understand the inherent risks in allowing your kids to play contact sports. I understand that hockey is a fast, rough game.
But when I got a text that said The Captain had been hit from behind and wasn’t getting up, I started to get pretty concerned. When I got a text that the opposing player didn’t even get penalized, I started getting really angry. When I heard that The Captain had to be helped off the ice and into the change room, and that the ref had said “we can either penalize everything or we can only penalize the big stuff. It’s up to you; if we call everything, the game’s going to go really slowly”, I was starting to seethe.
Here was the scenario: less than 5 minutes left in the third period. This is the third (and last) of our first best-of-three playoff series in which both teams have won one game. Our team was up 4-2. The Captain, coming in fast, recovered the puck from in front of his own net, and skated it around the back of the net. He and a teammate were skating together when an opposing player hit The Captain from behind, sending him flying headfirst into the boards. The Captain later said that his first reaction was to jump up and start beating the snot out of the kid, but because he’d hit his head really hard, he knew he should just stay down. So he stayed down. And that’s when the pain started.
Now here’s the thing: he won’t be playing any more playoff games, and that blows because his team is doing really well. He won’t be playing football this summer, because he’s sustained two brain injuries in one year. He won’t be playing hockey again either unless we can find a non-contact league. He should still be able to referee.
But what really REALLY pisses me off is that the other team wasn’t penalized for a hit from behind. My thirteen year old has to quit playing a sport he loves because of a dirty hit, and nobody is taking responsibility for it. What really pisses me off is this: WHY HAVE RULES AT ALL IF YOU’RE NOT GOING TO ENFORCE THEM? Why have rules that are, ostensibly, there to protect players and to reduce injuries (such as the ‘no checking from behind’ rule) when you can just arbitrarily decide not to call them so that the game can go faster? Why even have referees or rules at all? Why fucking bother?
Yeah, I’m mad about this. I’m really mad about this. The Captain is also a referee. He makes the calls he sees. BECAUSE THAT IS HIS JOB. You can tell me about how it’s up to the refs to use their judgement when it comes to certain calls (you don’t want to call that icing because a player was reasonably close to the puck? Okay. You don’t want to call that interference or tripping? Did the players get back up right away? Okay.) all you want, but there’s a reason there’s a rule on the books about how long a player ought to be penalized if s/he injures another player.
If it’s accidental injury, if it’s a clean hit and you didn’t mean to injure them, it’s not a penalty. If it’s a dirty hit, and there’s an injury, it can be anywhere from 4 minutes to a five-game suspension. (Depending on whether the offending player appeared to intend to injure another player, the manner in which the injury was sustained, etc..) I can’t comment with certainty on whether this was a clean or a dirty hit, since I’ve received conflicting information. The kid who got hit (mine) and his team-mate say it was a check from behind. The ref didn’t feel the need to call a penalty. There is the chance that I don’t understand the difference between a ‘check from behind’ and a ‘push from behind that sends a player face-first into the boards hard enough to cause brain damage’.
Would it make a difference if the kid who hit my kid was suspended for NEXT season? Nope. Not at all. I AM fairly certain that the kid didn’t set out to injure The Captain. At least, I’m hoping that’s the case. But the other kid is 13. He knows as well as everyone else in this sport that nothing is against the rules in a sport if you don’t get caught or called out for doing it.
One of the things I really do love about our coaching staff (who I will miss dearly because they’re all quite wonderful people) is that they focus on skills development, positional play, and the game itself. They don’t train our players to be assholes. Bruisers. “Enforcers”. They teach hockey. And our kids are good players. They don’t tend to get chippy. They don’t tend to back down when other teams are chippy either. Our coaches tell our players “don’t injure a guy. Don’t hurt a guy. Play the puck.” I admire that. And that’s why it makes me EVEN MORE ANGRY that the refs at this game decided that a play on which a kid was seriously injured was a “little call” that they couldn’t be arsed to make.
So anyway. I’m pretty angry. And yes, The Captain will probably make a full recovery. After missing a few days of school, the rest of his playoff games, and next year’s season.