Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Go ahead, turn the page if your head's starting to hurt from all this talk about concussions.

But it doesn't much matter where you look, you'll find it: sports, of course, but also federal and provincial politics, the obits – even the arts.

This week, freshly minted federal minister of health, Jane Philpott, and minister of sports, Carla Qualtrough, announced they will work together on "a national strategy to raise awareness for parents, coaches and athletes on concussion treatment."

Story continues below advertisement

This followed the introduction of Bill 149 in the Ontario legislature – "Rowan's Law," in honour of Ottawa's Rowan Stringer, a 17-year-old rugby player who died in 2013 after suffering three concussions in a single week. The bill would require all athletes, coaches and parents to be educated on the dangers of hits to the head.

There's rising buzz about a Hollywood movie, Concussion, that won't even hit theatres until Christmas, but already critics are raving about Will Smith's portrayal of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Pittsburgh pathologist who conducted what PBS calls "the autopsy that changed football."

That autopsy found chronic trauma encephalopathy (CTE) in the brain of a 50-year-old former Pittsburgh lineman. In the years since, CTE has been found in the brains of several athletes, including Canadian hockey players, who suffered multiple blows to the head and died young – often so tortured by the condition that they took their own lives.

The National Football League does not come off well in the film. Back in the spring, the NFL settled a lawsuit launched by former players who claimed the league knew of the dangers and failed to warn its players, but that nearly $1-billion (U.S.) arrangement is now under appeal.

Yet, the message is finally getting through. Several college players, some prime NFL prospects, have retired rather than risk their future lives. Last Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers' star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took himself out of a game for fear that a second strong hit that day might do irreversible damage.

Perhaps Mr. Roethlisberger had just heard that yet another iron-tough former player, NFL Hall-of-Famer Frank Gifford, had been found to have the degenerative condition when he died.

In Minneapolis, a U.S. federal court judge is considering a petition to force the National Hockey League to make public 2.5 million pages of documentation it has filed in response to a suit by roughly 100 former NHLers that is eerily similar to the ex-players' suit against the NFL.

Story continues below advertisement

CTV's investigative program W5, along with TSN, are behind the proceedings and have gained access to dozens of e-mails that are contained in the documents.

In one exchange between Colin Campbell, then the league's senior vice-president of operations, and former player and analyst Mike Milbury regarding the infamous Matt Cooke head-shot that ended the career of Marc Savard, Mr. Campbell replied: "Let's face it, Mike … we sell rivalries, we sell and promote hate."

"What we have seen in 60 pages makes us wonder what the heck is in another 2.5 million pages of documents," W5 executive producer Anton Koschany told CTV News.

There will be lots there like that. Mr. Campbell was merely being, as is his wont, brutally honest in his reply. This is a sports league, history will show, that has always embraced violence as "part of the game" – at times even as the game itself.

New York Americans owner Tex Rickard used to hire ambulances to park outside Madison Square Garden in the 1930s. Conn Smythe of the Toronto Maple Leafs liked to say: "If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice." The Philadelphia Flyers, proudly calling themselves The Broad Street Bullies, won two Stanley Cups in the 1970s with their fists.

"Hockey is a game of violence," former league head Clarence Campbell used to say. "This will never change."

Story continues below advertisement

Well, it will change, because it must change – because everything we thought we knew has changed.

Indeed, important change in the national game might already be under way in this country had a concussion summit come off as planned in the summer of 2014. For nearly two years, a small group headed by Hall-of-Fame goaltender Ken Dryden and including renowned brain-injury expert Dr. Charles Tator, Roy McMurtry, the former Ontario Minister of Justice who decades ago dared take on violence in hockey, and The Globe and Mail worked together to put together such a forum.

Mr. Dryden's contacts and determined convincing had agreement from virtually all shareholders to join in such a gathering, which was to be held in Ottawa.

Governor General David Johnston was on board, agreeing to put the facilities of Rideau Hall at the group's disposal. Several organizations, national and international, were eager to participate. A major sports network was interesting in carrying discussions live. At the last minute, a couple of major, and necessary, participants balked. No identification required. They apparently saw it as an ambush.

The lost forum was never intended to be a gathering in which long lines of damaged athletes and earnest medical experts would testify. It was intended to accept the obvious – that concussion damage is real, that something must be done – and begin the process of changing the game as needed.

Years before, at an academic gathering on sport in Fredericton, Mr. Dryden had said that hockey needed "a new forward pass" – the reference being to the pivotal rule change in 1929 that profoundly changed the way in which hockey was played.

Story continues below advertisement

The intent in Fredericton was to open up the game to skill.

The intent at the Ottawa summit would be to find ways in which the national game can remain physical but become safe enough to play that parents and players would confidently join in.

The elimination of fighting was obvious and, mercifully, it is fading fast from the game, although it was only Tuesday evening at Montreal's Bell Centre that Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno staggered Canadiens defenceman Nathan Beaulieu with a hard right.

As for other hits to the head, on that same night in Ottawa, Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Radko Gudas slammed into the head of Senators forward Mika Zibanejad so hard that Zibanejad is now on the injury list. There was not even a penalty called – although the league, having come to its own senses, later suspended Mr. Gudas for three games.

All head shots should be illegal. If a defender can be penalized for "accidentally" putting the puck over the boards in his or her own end, then there can also be a penalty for accidental head contact.

People such as Mr. Dryden and Dr. Tator have no wish to see hockey become a non-contact sport. They simply argue that we have come to know something today that we did not know yesterday, just as society changed its views on such hazards as tobacco and asbestos.

Story continues below advertisement

"Coaches and players adapt every second," says Mr. Dryden. "That's what they do. Players are the most adaptable creatures on Earth."

Athletes can certainly still play hockey without hits to the head.

Football, however, may well be another story.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies