When people say athletes know the risks when they "sign up" to play sports, Taylor Twellman responds: "You don't sign up to be debilitated for the rest of your life and to struggle . . . You don't sign up, if you're Marc Savard, to get cold-cocked by Matt Cooke. That's against the rules." But not all athletes feel that way . . .
Concussions? Shawn Thornton says. Just dont ask me if Ive ever had one. Its bad luck.
You want to laugh.
THE PROBLEM: Istherea concussion 'epidemic' in hockey? Notnecessarily
THEVICTIMS: Fromoneextreme to the other: Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron
THE FACE OF THEPROBLEM:TaylorTwellman:One man's concussion story
Surely, this professional hockey player doesnt think that by simply ignoring concussions they wont happen. That kind of thinking is reserved for seventh-inning baseball crowds, lips sealed in belief that just one person need acknowledge a no-hitter to ruin it.
But Thornton is serious.
Fans who've watched the Bruins bruiser forecheck on a rush, or backcheck a guy into the boards, or jackhammer his fists into opponents faces might not believe he hides from concussions behind a superstition. But Thornton trusts in 14 years of NHL experience. To him, the superstition protects from concussions as well as any gear can.
I've seen people get knocked out with head gear and 16-ounce gloves, so if you get caught in the chin you're going to get a concussion. That's just the way it is.
We sign up for this, he continues. At the end of the day I go out there every night and I know people are going to be taking runs, but that's my job and I signed up for it. I'm okay with it. Maybe it's just human nature that we think about the positive stuff that's involved and not the negative.
We are hockey players. Athletes.
The Us -vs.-Them distinction is important in todays moral panic about head injuries in sports. Marc Savards announcement of the end of his season on February 9, 2011 was an emotional and alarming moment in Boston, in hockey and in The Concussion Crisis. It was also a Redwood thrown on the medias fire.
The players want to play.
This is why Savard ashen and deflated could describe his post-concussion pain before a room of 30 writers and photographers and dismiss the idea of retirement. Athletes arent scared to return; risk is in nature of the profession. Owning some degree of a God complex is what pushes Them to the apex of their abilities.
It's absolutely true, Thornton says without a trace of a smile. We think we're invincible.
Teammate Brad Marchand elaborates. He says pro athletes lose their edge when they start to contemplate their mortality.
Watching Savard suffer doesnt really change my game. I have to get in there, get in the mix," Marchand says. Once you start sitting back a bit, I think thats the time when most injuries happen, when youre trying to jump out of the way of hits. Thats when you might get blindsided.
The desire of hockey players, or any athletes, to keep playing after suffering concussions isnt foolish; the sport is life. Thankfully, science and medicine are making strides to support this passion by properly treating brain injuries. Education on the subject has increased exponentially in the last 10 years.
Thats the good news.
The battle? Keeping players honest about symptoms that will sit them on the bench.