Ben Bishop

As a sports fan who was born in the ’80s, I grew up watching the bad boys win Championships in Detroit, Scott Stevens laying big elbows in hockey, and linebackers and safeties blowing up receivers in football. When I played sports as a kid we were told these were lessons in sports. Don’t skate with your head down, don’t go into the paint if you don’t want to get hit, and always know your surroundings. But what we didn’t know, and what our coaches didn’t know, was what the damage those hits were going to do to players and the long-term damage that was going to go with them.

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Eric Lindros

The last 20 years has lead to a whole new way of thinkings about the subject of concussions and big hits in sports. In 2002, CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), was first linked to football, when Bennett Amaulu (a forensic pathologist) in Pittsburgh Pennslyvania discovered the disorder in Mike Webster, Terry Long, Andre Waters, Justin Strzelcyk and Tom McHale. Since then we have seen hundreds of athletes become diagnosed with CTE. The problem though with being diagnosed with CTE is that you have to of passed on. You might be reading this and thinking I like sports but I’ve never heard of these players, but some athletes you might know are Junior Seau, Bob Probert, and former professional wrestler Chris Benoit. For many of these athletes, CTE isn’t something that they pass from in the middle of the night. In many of these athletes then they have finished their careers they are finding a significant decline in their quality of life, due to the numerous concussion they have sustained, in association with the pain killers, and other lifestyle risks that were taken on to allow them to continue to stay on the field/ice/ring.

OJ Simpson

For many parents, in the 19 years since CTE was first found in pro athletes, the decision process has started to change in what types of sports parents are willing to allow their kids to plays. In the United States, the number of kids playing Pop Warner, and High School football has started to decline. High School Football specifically saw more than 100,000 fewer players playing in the period between 2008 and 2018. In Canada, hockey has seen a similar effect, with Hockey Canada having its lowest number of registered players in 2020 in a decade. While I’m not going to say that these declines are only because of concussions and CTE, there are certainly other aspects at play, but it is certainly something that every parent should be thinking about when they decide to expose their children to sports. Would you rather have your kids play football or hockey, where they run the long-term risk of concussions, that could ultimately ruin their lives, or would you rather have them play basketball, baseball, soccer, gymnastics, or another sport that has fewer long-term risks associated with it?

These numbers won’t be the end of these sports, we are seeing both the NFL, and NHL make adjustments to their games to try and reduce the number of concussions in their sport, and we have also seen advances in medicine, that are allowing players to better treat the issues that are associated with multiple concussions as well. In time we will see if these measures do enough to reassure parents that it’s going to be safe for their kids to participate or if we will see the numbers continue to rise in other sports across North America.