The unspeakable “C” word

What do I know about hockey players?  A few things because I raised one through high school.  They get up too early in the morning to get to practice; their gear bags smell terrible; they skate like the wind; the elegance of a goal well played can be breath taking; they are rugged and rough and resistant.

But under the gear and the helmets and the speed are flesh and blood human beings with brains that look like jello, just like yours and mine.  And those brains are just as susceptible to concussion as anyone’s.

So it is dismaying that the hockey world seems resistant to the reality of what can happen on the ice.  While other sports and schools across the country are grappling with the right way to prevent and manage head injuries given that we are just beginning to understand them, the NHL is demurring. According to Roy Macgregor of Canada’s Globe and Mail (

The NHL has increasingly shown a reluctance even to use the word “concussion.” A player is described as “dizzy” or suffering “whiplash,” anything to avoid using the word that is increasingly regarded as a stigma.

It has become the game’s “C” word.


This attitude not only does a disservice to every player who sustains an injury but it trickles down to the middle and high school players who emulate and admire their professional hockey heroes.  Slowly but surely the world is learning that one cannot diagnose a concussion right away but that each person’s head injury may take a different trajectory and show its severity over the hours or even days and weeks that follow the event.  Just last week a Kazakh player, Dmitry Uchaykin, died after taking a hard hit to the head even though he went home to sleep after the game only to suffer an unexpected cerebral hemorrhage. This terrible event made some waves on Twitter but it was underplayed elsewhere in the face of March Madness.  But the madness lies in skipping over the very serious reality of this condition, known as second impact syndrome.

To deny a head injury or its importance and subtlety is to collude in a dangerous game of putting the brains, minds, lives and souls of players and their fans at risk.