One league under reacts, another over reacts, and in the nation’s largest city, the marquee professional franchises aren’t sure how or why to react. Such was the last week when it comes to head trauma in sports — just as Brain Injury Awareness Month was getting underway.
A week ago, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble returned with an NHL-damning segment entitled “On Thin Ice,” that will continue to run until March 20.
The same day, speaking at the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine committee meeting in Indianapolis, the NFL’s chief medical officer lamented a 16 percent increase in concussions in 2017.
Then on Wednesday, the New York Times reported on outfielder Clint Frazier feeling suddenly much better after a concussion because — stop the presses — he had followed Russell Wilson’s advice and increased his water intake.
David Scott is the Real Sports correspondent for “On Thin Ice,” which focuses on the 2015 death, at age 35, of NHL journeyman Steve Montador — whose last stop was with the Blackhawks in 2011-12.
Diagnosed with CTE post-mortem, Montador suffered as many as 19 concussions, which his father, Paul, believes caused the CTE.
Scott more accurately cites the scientific evidence that generically blames multiple hits to the head over years, rather than specific numbers of concussions, for CTE.
The segment reports that the number “of dead hockey players with CTE are beginning to add up.” Unfortunately, the names of those other players are omitted. Nor does the report make mention of Todd Ewen, another NHL tough guy, who committed suicide at age 49 in 2015, believing he had CTE. However, an autopsy revealed he did not.
The story includes an interview with Montreal Canadien legend Ken Dryden, who wrote a book about Montador’s life and death, and presented the first copy in person to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman last fall.
Dryden has yet to hear back from Bettman. Nonetheless, the world has heard Bettman say there is no evidence connecting hockey to CTE, even though the NFL has acknowledged such a link between the disease and playing professional football.
Pressed by the media in the wake of that NFL admission, Bettman said, “I think it’s fairly clear that playing hockey isn’t the same as playing football. “
Bettman has no idea how right he was. Hockey is played on a harder surface; its collisions often occur at far higher speeds; and the solid boards and glass, that mark hockey’s boundaries, have nothing comparable with which those on the gridiron would constantly collide.
That is not to say that the NFL is without its dangers, as evidenced by its 291 diagnosed concussions in 2017, compared to the 250 in 2016. That increase, according to Dr. Allen Sills, was a “call to action.”
But was it really?
The increase was only in the number of “diagnosed” concussions and is largely attributable to more players self-reporting, which is something to be celebrated, because the number of actual concussions is much higher.
According to the NFL numbers, only nine percent of NFL players suffered a concussion in 2017. That number is laughable given the results of an anonymous study of CFL players that determined roughly one quarter had a concussion in 2016, with only one fifth of them ever informing their teams.
Next week, why something as simple as drinking water helps with concussion.