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Hockey and Its Link to Traumatic Brain Injury

By Connecticut Personal Injury Attorney on February 9, 2018

Hockey has a long tradition in Connecticut. It may be twenty years now since we lost the Whalers, but the sport’s popularity has continued to grow at all levels, from youth organizations to adult rec leagues. With the 2018 Winter Olympics going on now, interest is at an all-time high.

Hockey players exhibit a combination of agility, strength, and endurance. Unfortunately, recent research has uncovered a dark side to sports like hockey, and the tremendous danger that it poses to long-term brain health.

How Hockey Can Cause Traumatic Brain Injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as a blow to the head that causes damage to the brain. Millions of people suffer brain injuries every year in the United States. Of those, half are severe enough to require a hospital visit.

Hockey players are especially susceptible to head injuries due to the nature of the sport. Hockey is quite violent—athletes skate at fast speeds, and collisions are bound to happen. Players check and board each other frequently, meaning they bump each other shoulder-to-shoulder, oftentimes into the wall surrounding the rink. Other dangers include falls on the rock-hard ice, or a player’s head being hit by the puck or other player’s sticks. And that’s not to mention the number of fights that occur in hockey games.

It wasn’t long ago that hockey was celebrated for its violence, but our understanding of head injuries has changed in the last few years. Concussions have become a primary concern for many high-impact sports, including football, boxing, and soccer. This new information has led to a reevaluation of what levels of physicality and contact are appropriate in sports today.

The Connection Between Hockey and CTE

A recent story on NPR highlighted the high incidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy among hockey players. While it has only been widely publicized in recent years, we have been aware of CTE at least since the 1920s, from boxers. Back then, it was referred to as punch-drunk syndrome. The people most often affected by CTE are athletes and military veterans, but anyone with a history of repetitive TBIs is at risk of CTE.

CTE is characterized by progressive degeneration of brain tissue and can be recognized by a build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. Symptoms might not become apparent until many years after the athlete’s career. Common symptoms of CTE include:

  • memory loss
  • mood swings
  • sudden bouts of anger
  • confusion
  • impaired judgment
  • impulse control issues
  • depression
  • suicidal thoughts
  • dementia

For long-time athletes, the injuries they suffered while playing will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Famed boxer Muhammad Ali believed his Parkinson’s disease was caused by CTE. This is especially true for hockey players. It wasn’t that long ago that players refused to wear helmets out of a misguided belief that it was a sign of weakness. Former players, such as Hartford Whalers forward Jeff Parker, have seen their lives ruined by CTE. Parker talked about his daily confusion, his inability to deal with crowds or loud noises, and even his inability to smell.

Parker isn’t the only one. Countless former NHL players find everyday tasks a challenge. Current players, including stars like Sidney Crosby, have missed significant playing time due to head injuries. Despite all the evidence, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has refused to acknowledge a link between repeated concussions and CTE.

The Danger Is Greater for Youth Sports

Studies have indicated that concussions are most dangerous to children and teenagers, whose brains are still developing. CTE is more likely to occur—and to occur earlier—the younger you are when you start playing a contact sport. This should frighten parents and organizers of youth sports everywhere, and make everyone think long and hard about safety.

You may think that if you volunteer to play a dangerous sport such as hockey, you have no one to blame if you get hurt. That’s not necessarily true. League owners and administrators have a responsibility to care for the athletes who participate in their sports. A failure to acknowledge and protect against the dangers of brain injuries may be negligence.

If you suspect that your loved one is suffering from a preventable brain injury, it’s important that you speak with an experienced Connecticut brain injury attorney. At Naizby Law, we can advise you on your legal options to receive compensation for your injuries. For a free consultation, call (203) 245-8500.

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