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2013-05-31 at 11:12

OPINION: Playing the odds

By J.R. Shermack, for
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Mothers of peewee hockey players across the country are heaving a sigh of relief.

They are applauding Hockey Canada’s decision to ban body checking for 11 and 12 year olds.  The Canadian Pediatric Society calls it a small step in the right direction.

Moms and dads are now free to push their kids towards that ultimate prize – playing in the NHL. Some hockey parents in Canada will sacrifice anything to achieve that goal.

In a recent poll by the Rick Hansen Institute, seven per cent of these hopeful parents believe their child has the potential to play professional hockey.

That’s the incentive. The lure of fame and fortune, multi-million dollar contracts and a shot at the Stanley Cup are too much for some families to resist.

The Rick Hansen Institute is interested in this behaviour.  They know that traumatic spinal cord and brain injuries never really heal and go away.

The survey showed that 67 per cent of hockey parents know someone who has suffered a concussion or a serious head, neck, back or brain injury. For footballers it’s 32 per cent, for soccer it’s 16 per cent and nine per cent in mixed martial arts.

For many hockey players and their parents the risk is worth the potential reward. They should think again.  At best, they are just playing the odds.

Consider the case of former minor hockey player Spencer Jean. 

Mr. Jean is another victim of what has been called “the silent epidemic of youth concussions.”  He suffered his first brain injury at the age of 16 in a hockey fight.

His last concussion occurred when he was 20 years old, playing in the American Collegiate Hockey Association. His career ended last November.

After extensive testing Spencer learned that he is a prime candidate for the dementia associated with his diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Sadly for him, parts of his brain are deteriorating and dying.

This young man is fearful of what his future holds.

He watched his grandmother suffer the effects of dementia so he knows what to expect.

He is reluctantly accepting his fate. His only hope is he doesn’t develop dementia too young.

When Spencer Jean’s hockey career ended in 2011 he had already received 10 to 15 brain concussions, maybe more.

This is just a guess because Spencer learned to mask his symptoms to fool his doctors and his parents.

He couldn’t confirm the number of injuries himself because now he has no recollection of his minor hockey career.

His vision, balance, focus and sleep patterns have also been adversely affected along with his memory.

He loved hockey and wanted to play at all costs. It worked. 

Nobody told him to stop, not his parents, his coaches or his doctors.

This is typical behaviour in Canadian hockey.  The lure of the cup is strong and players are taught to “play through the pain” from an early age.

Got a concussion? No problem.  Skate it off.

You may be wondering what happens to that seven per cent of young players who are considered NHL-bound by their parents.  Well, most of them need a reality check.

Actually, only one kid in 3,000 makes it to those million dollar contracts. That works out to .03 per cent.

These kids and their parents are playing very long odds. 

Instead of a bright future as a hockey millionaire, many of these would-be superstars will face the challenges of physiotherapy, rehabilitation and a very uncertain future.

The body checking ban may do some good but once our superstars move on from peewee to bantam they are on a very bumpy road.

Their only bragging rights may be “I coulda been a contender.”


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We've improved our comment system.
Counterpunch says:
Good article.
5/31/2013 11:52:12 AM
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