Hockey players are some the most iconic athletic warriors in the world. Toothless smiles, black eyes, and bruised bodies have come to identify the toughness of this winter sporting event in particular, but with the recent, disturbing trend of suicides, murders, and reckless behavior throughout professional contact leagues — NHL, NFL, and FIFA — there has been a push understand the what the hidden bruises to the brain, concussions particularly, do to the mind.
In our culture of bigger, stronger, faster athletes, researchers are beginning to see the damage teaching younger athletes to block out pain to the detriment of their bodies. Playing through pain has become a marker of leadership, toughness, and focus, yet most studies show that compartmentalizing pain can lead to unhealthy ways of dealing with hardship and adversity.
In a recent article in The New York Times, a Canadian university, which agreed to have scientists follow its male and female hockey teams, showed exactly what parents should be concerned about when sending their children to compete in a contact sport: coaches with an adverse attitude towards head injuries sustained during competition.
“This culture is entrenched at all levels of hockey, from peewee to university,” said Dr. Paul S. Echlin, a concussion specialist and researcher in Burlington, Ontario, and the lead author of the study.
The culture is well ingrained throughout all levels of football, where you’ll hear “suck it up,” “man up,” and play through it [the pain]” from coaches who parents trust with their children’s safety. Football brass will always use cunning ways to explain why they tell youngsters to block out pain, such as it builds character, “heart,” and resolve, but researchers feel this leads to complications down the road:
90 percent of students treated in his clinics report significant worsening of post-concussion symptoms when they attempt school tasks, with problems persisting well beyond a month for many students, according to Dr. Gerard Gioia, chief of pediatric neuropsychology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C..
Dr. Goila’s statement seems like an exaggeration until one reads the research from Purdue University, which tracked concussion symptoms in a high school team in Indiana, finding that there could be head trauma even without the overt clinical signs of concussions. What does that mean? Players are showing cognitive impairment without being knocked out by a big hit, which means small hits are just as damaging to the brain as the big ones.
So, when coaches disregard the medical advice given by sideline physicians and send their players out to play, as did the coaches in the hockey study, who has the authority to protect these student athletes from the coaches and themselves? There is no union speaking on behalf of student-athletes — only parents who don’t have enough knowledge to make a plea to the coaches and administrators to help save their children from concussion-related issues.