Head Like a Hole

The CaptainFirst, 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’.

It’s also reassuring to know that the Saskatchewan Minor Hockey Association’s Concussion Education page is non-functional.

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.


8 responses to “Head Like a Hole”

  1. Cara Avatar

    I had no idea. I’m going to watch that documentary and think long and hard about future sports choice with The Kid. And I’ll be seeing if there are no-contact leagues for kids in this city.

    If Olympians are no-contact, why do our kids need it?

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      I hope it doesn’t turn you away from all contact sports. But there has to be a sea change. And there are non-contact options if it makes you nervous. Good point about the olympics. I’ve always preferred European/International hockey to the NHL bullshite we get here.

      For a frame of reference, I think I mentioned this is the first time in 9 years he’s been injured. Which is actually a pretty good run.

      1. Marlon IV Avatar
        Marlon IV

        The Olympics are full contact. The penalties for fighting, though, are much stiffer (I think it is an automatic game misconduct). The reffing also generally calls hard (even clean) hits more than stick work.

        1. cenobyte Avatar

          The reason I love International hockey is because fighting is stiffly penalized.

  2. Coyote Avatar

    Certain positions, especially if it is the beginning of the season, that have contact as their main job (linemen, middle linebackers) need some light to medium contact to get their bodies tuned to how to make full contact. We limit full scrimage to twice a week in the preseason, and once or none a week once games are going. Knowing how to hit properly and be hit properly requires a slow build to the full event.

    As far as the NFL rule on one practice a week being full contact … well. The NFLPA makes a good noise about getting that into the general agreement and how they protect their membership. But it was never a sticking point for management. NFL players are paid a lot of money and MAKE their owners a LOT of money. Full contact at the professional level is never fully needed like it is in a beginning skills level. The risk/reward for more than one day of contact in a 5 day period isn’t there for the owners. In other sports … the reward for the risk is still there.

    And I’m not sure but I think that one in five rule only applies once the season is underway.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      All of our practices in the three or four years The Captain has been playing the gridiron football have featured at least four of five practices being contact or full contact. I’m not saying don’t have ANY contact at practice. I’m saying don’t have it every day.

  3. Neo Avatar

    You know Ceno, i totally understand your outrage about the player that hit The Captain not even getting a penalty. Years ago, I watched every single Pats game, live, with my dad. We love hockey. One sad evening (we’re talking like 20 years ago), the Pats were doing well when a player named Brad Hornung (sp?) was hit from behind in his zone. I immediately cringed because of how his head hit the boards. Then panic, as he wasn’t moving. Medics came out, still no movement. After about 45 minutes, They got him onto a stretcher and off to the hospital. the following day, a news article about how his spine was crushed and he’d never walk again, much less play hockey. One of the most promising prospects at his time. Despite the fact that the player who hit him, i am certain, did not intend to hurt him. But the penalty was boarding, and off to the box he went.

    Like in any sport, especially contacts sports, injuries can happen as can accidents. It’s just the nature of competing. I am sure the other boy didn’t purposely try to cause injury. But even NHL players get penalties for boarding, and for valid reasons!

    I would like NeoSpawn to play sports. I grew up playing soccer and hockey and learning martial arts. I’ve had injuries and I will have to mentally prepare myself for the possibility that my son will too. Sports are great for a child’s development socially, mentally and physically. They learn respect which can be taken into every aspect of their life. I sincerely hope The Captain is okay, i know he loves hockey and football. But his health is paramount over playing sports. Whether he got hit from behind or the hit was clean, it’s STILL BOARDING! The other kid should have had a penalty, injury or otherwise. And in most hockey leagues, that’s a five minute major! Aside, when did they start allowing full contact in pee-wee hockey? (or is he playing bantam?)

    Sorry for the rant Ceno.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      They’ve been allowing full contact in PeeWee hockey since The Captain played two years ago. He’s in Bantam now. And yes, I hear you about how kids get injured in sport. We knew that going in.

      But what gets me is the ref saying “do you want me to call every little penalty? Because that’s going to slow up the game”. Yes I want you to call every little penalty, because that’s your fucking job. And yes, I choose to believe the other player didn’t intend to hurt anyone from our team. However, there is a reason hitting from behind is illegal. It’s because it is KNOWN to cause injuries. Big injuries. Serious injuries. Stupid and avoidable injuries. Kids are trained from the time they start Initiation at age 4 that they’re never to hit from behind. So yes, I wanted that penalty called.

      I’m mad because I’m not willing to risk my son’s brain for contact sport. I’m mad because there are checks and balances put in place to try to minimize these sorts of accidents and they *weren’t called*. I’m mad because my kid is hurt, emotionally and physically.

      I appreciate the rant, Neo. Rant on.

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