A year-long medical study centered around both men’s and women’s college hockey teams reported that there is a “significant underreporting” of concussions. Basically, coaches prefer that players with possible head injuries should stay in the game instead of getting yanked out and examined by doctors.
The study, which was conducted by the Hockey Concussion Education Program (the HCEP), examined two hockey teams and 45 players in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport league during the 2011-12 season. Physicians took notes on how a player reacted after a hit, which includes things such as their body language when sitting on the bench. Players were also “clinically evaluated, given neuropsychological assessments and underwent MRI imaging both pre- and postseason as well as postinjury.”
Dr. Paul Echlin, the scientist at the head of this study, said the following:
“We did a previous study [one year ago] with the CIS without observers. We didn’t do MRI imaging and there was only one reported concussion for that season. This past season, we were full on with multiple physicians at games, home and away, and we did imaging. It really demonstrates the underreporting of medical concussions.”
Even while the NHL is adopting new concussion procedures, hockey teams at the lower levels aren’t necessarily taking the same action with concussions as the NHL is, according to the study. Here’s a prime example of that:
In one instance, a team trainer talked about how he treated a female player who was hit, then absorbed a second hit when her head struck the ice. Despite the player saying she had a small headache, the trainer admitted, “I allowed her to stay in the game without an appropriate physician evaluation.”
Despite the fact that the medical knowledge for concussions and head injuries is growing and growing, Echlin added that the common person’s knowledge on these injuries should grow and grow as well. This is true – most if not all know that concussions in sports, and hockey for that matter, aren’t good, but educating athletes, parents and coaches on the matters of concussions and head injuries should probably be more emphasized. Here’s Echlin again:
“It’s not just about the NHL, it’s a public health issue. You want to look at how it impacts society. Do those [injured] kids fulfill their academic potential? Some of them don’t. Can it be prevented? Absolutely, through education, through letting sports evolve. We all want kids to be healthy and fit and get the social benefits of sports.”
I don’t think that it’s just the coaches that don’t want their players being checked out for a possible concussion, but I think that players in all sports have a tendency to try to play through the pain, even when the coach asks “Are you okay?”. I also think even more athletes will act okay after seeing the Alex Smith situation unfold in San Francisco for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. Alex Smith suffered a concussion that forced him to leave the game. His backup, Colin Kaepernick, came in and played well. Smith was forced to miss the next game and Kaepernick played superbly. After that game Smith was cleared to play but the head coach wanted to stick with Kaepernick. Smith lost his starting job because of his concussion and I should note at the time of his injury he was the NFL’s 5th ranked QB. So, it wasn’t like he was playing poorly, he was actually having a career year.
All in all, this is a very good study, and I think that to help improve the safety of players, we shouldn’t have to impose more rules in the game, but we should rather educate young hockey players and coaches on this issue. Imposing more rules is not the way to go – if you’re going to play hockey, you’re going to have to face the possibility of a concussion. Instead we could be stricter when enforcing the current rules. Either way we can’t prevent concussions from never happening again – that’s virtually impossible. But if the education on head injuries is emphasized more frequently, the safety of players should be improved.