Eight concussions on a team of 12-year-old hockey players in Ottawa in a single season – out of 17 players – is an astonishing level of damage to youthful brains. It takes the issue of hockey concussions out of the hands of the National Hockey League and puts it squarely in the laps of parents.
No one wants to see children live in bubble-wrap. And the eight concussions on the Ottawa Sting AA team (not even the highest level of play) are not necessarily any more than happened in the past – you can’t count what you won’t look at, and nearly everyone looked away. Typically, children and teenagers returned to play, putting their brains at risk over the long term.
The refusal of many parents to adapt has held back safety improvements to the game. In Peterborough, Ont.’s youth hockey program, considered a national leader in concussion awareness, parents surrounded the car of a referee after a game and berated him. Hockey Canada made rule changes before the season meant to make the game safer, but woe to any teenage referee who tries to enforce the new rules. Researchers have documented multiple cases of parents on a single team of 16- to 21-year-olds resisting the advice of doctors to keep their concussed children out of the lineup.
The answer is to respect concussions, not fear them. It is to make sure that concussed players do not return to the lineup, either within the same game, where there’s a suspicion of concussion, or in subsequent games, until they are healed. It is to ensure that young people are not subject to multiple concussions without discussing whether another sport might be more suitable.
Some of that vigilance and respect is taking root. The parents, coaches and trainer of the Ottawa Sting made sure that their concussed players were healed before they returned. Eight concussions among a single team of 12-year-olds are a high price to pay for love of the game, as the truth about hockey head injuries comes home.