By now I’m sure most of you have heard about the believed suicide of former NFL player Junior Seau. If you haven’t, I’ve included links to articles for Slate
, and CNN
It is not atypical for a former football player to take his own life. In fact, depression and dementia are common problems for former players and the Slate article talks about how brains of former players are being studied. One player shot himself in the chest to preserve his brain for study. He showed signs of a condition that causes dementia and depression due to repeated head trauma.
From what I’ve read about his past, Seau sounds like a prime candidate for depression or at the very least, emotional problems. He had a rough upbringing and a less than Mayberry-style reputation off the field. Combined with regular head injuries sustained playing the sport, Seau’s suicide seems almost text book for a former player.
I’ve had multiple conversations with people about how hockey is more violent than football in a way. The sport of football is designed to be more violent but hockey has more deliberate fights and aggressive moves. The point of football is to knock a guy to the ground. The point of hockey is to get the puck in the net. Head traumas on the ice are accidental and merit punishment.
Another advantage hockey seems to have over football is that the NHL takes concussions far more seriously than the NFL. I’ve heard several arguments about how football is dangerous and how teenagers and college kids aren’t being monitored closely enough for injury. So many places are valuing the sport over the players.
In an effort to study the effects of concussions on the brain, concussive players were monitored against a control for players who were supposedly healthy. The study revealed no difference between their brains. The healthy ‘control’ group of players were in fact receiving minor concussions and not being diagnosed or treated. More importantly, they were going out on the field and risking re-injury.
I know the NHL isn’t as popular in the states are football but you don’t hear nearly as much shock and outrage about players with brain injuries. Why? Because the NHL started taking things like that seriously before public outrage made them.
Yes, I’m sure fans and families of former players were speaking out about cases of dementia and depression but it never turned into such a massive debate that went down to the high school level. It was the aftereffects that had the NHL started taking serious looks at concussions and their implications. Because they are brain injuries, they stopped ‘skating it off’ and started pulling concussive players.
When Nicklas Backstrom and Sidney Crosby were out with concussions this season the NHL was very strict about the players even being allowed to skate at practice. There were a series of physical tests they had to pass before being allowed to train to the best of their ability. If they displayed any symptoms during practice, they had to get off the ice. Once the NHL clears you, the trainers work very closely to make sure you don’t risk reinjury. Backstrom spent half the season off the ice; Crosby spent even more. A possible winning streak was not worth someone’s future mental health.
Even with all this debate and outrage, I have heard very little of the NFL’s procedure when a player is diagnosed with a concussion. If new tests or waiting periods have been implemented for player safety, I have heard almost nothing about it.
I’m not making a blanket statement that the NHL is better than the NFL. I don’t follow football as closely and the NHL is bound to have some of the same problems with their former players. What I do know is that I hear more about the NHL’s safety measures and valuing player health and wellbeing than I do for the NFL.