Blackhawks

Ex-Bear Becker speaks out on head trauma

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Ex-Bear Becker speaks out on head trauma

Kurt Becker played football for 19 years at the junior high school, high school, college and professional levels. During that time, he didn't know what a concussion was. Medical research hadn't defined it yet. In the era of Dick Butkus and Mike Ditka, it was all about getting your "bell rung."

"Now the medical community has defined what a concussion is. In my 19 years, we thought a concussion was when a guy got knocked out," said Becker, who started 36 consecutive games as an offensive guard at Michigan and played for eight years with the Chicago Bears.

"We found through medical research that a concussion is when you get your bell rung. As an offensive lineman, we got our bell rung a lot. To say how many times, I couldn't put a number on it. I never lost consciousness. But there were numerous times I went back to the wrong huddle or had a lapse during a play."

It was a different game in those days. It was coached differently and played differently. The athletes weren't as big or as strong or as fast as today's players. They didn't refer to bounties but there were Doug Planks and Jack Tatums and they wore stickers on their helmets as rewards for hits and tackles and big hits.

"We took care of each other, our teammates," Becker said. "If it occurred, a teammate would straighten me out and I'd play through it. It was a mentality of macho. We were warriors and that meant something to you as a football player."

"There was pain and there was injury. An injury was when it didn't work. In the whole time I played, I can recall only one or two players who missed a week because of a concussion. But now we have found that it is a dangerous subject. Now a week isn't nearly enough time to recover. There is a big change."

Becker has become more aware of the issue in recent months. He recently was hired as the head football coach at his alma mater, East Aurora. Next fall, his son will be a preferred walkon on the football team at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

He has seen many former football players suffer through Alzheimer's disease and dementia, mostly related to concussions. And he has agonized over 20 former NFL players who committed suicide because of their physical condition, most notably former Bears teammate Dave Duerson.

As a result, Becker was persuaded by friend Tom Cross (R-Oswego), the minority leader of the Illinois House of Representatives, to testify before a House panel to support legislation designed to increase widespread awareness of head trauma and provide concussion safeguards for high school athletes.

"As someone who is involved in high school sports, I could see there was no protocol for dealing with this subject," Becker said. "We created a platform for the Illinois High School Association to adopt. It gives us tools to deal with concussions."

Under provisions of the legislation, the referee has the primary responsibility of pulling an athlete from a game if he is experiencing concussion-like symptoms. But that is only the beginning in a series of events that are designed to be sure that the injured athlete isn't returned to competition before he is physically and neurologically able.

"Football is a contact sport and you will get hit in the head. Is it a head injury or part of the game?" Becker said. "The good thing now is the issue is out of the hands of the trainers and coaches to determine when an athlete can return to play. If it is determined that you have a concussion, you have to see a physician who must determine when you can return to play."

"The part of the bill that I like is the education part. We need to educate parents and kids about what a concussion is. More importantly, we need to re-evaluate how we are teaching the game. We're still stuck in the way it was 20 years ago, not how it is today."

Becker points out how the game has changed. For an offensive lineman, the style has changed. And there's a big difference. Today, offensive linemen in college and the NFL are taught zone blocking with their torsos in an upright position and using their hands. Previously, blocking skills weren't as clearly defined in the era of the Green Bay sweep and traps and pulling guards.

"Skills have evolved today as athletes have evolved. Today, they are bigger, stronger and faster," Becker said. "If we change the way we play the game, if we use the body and not the head, then the rules have to change. What position is a player hit on every play? The line of scrimmage. Today, we block more with our hands and body. We need to change the rules so kids aren't called for holding for playing that way."

As Becker approaches his first season as a head coach in a high school program, he believes he has two vital responsibilities:

1. To produce the best athletes he can, to prepare them physically so they are ready to compete.

2. To be sure that the way he is teaching the game is the right way.

"What we did 20 years ago isn't the correct way today," Becker said. "This is a different style than I learned when I was growing up, what is being adopted today in college and the NFL.

"Before, linemen would hit with their heads and shoulder block. Now we block with our torso with our hands and arms in front of our chest and shoulders. We keep our heads out of the game.

"We have to get back to tackling as we were taught. Aim at the target, your head slides off and you tackle with your shoulder and wrap your arms around the opponent. Throwing your body at his legs isn't what you can do.

"Concussions are an inherent risk of the game. The bottom line is it is a tough sport for tough kids. Now we have to be aware of another issue--the head injury. It was ignored before but now it is an issue we have to deal with."

Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

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USA Today

Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

Effort has not been a major concern for the Blackhawks this season. For the most part it's been there, and you could see it over the last two months when they started to string together a run.

But Wednesday, it was.

The Blackhawks didn't have a great first period. They had a decent second. Things went off the rails in the third. 

The Blackhawks lost focus, and the compete level wasn't nearly where it needed to be in their first home game in exactly two weeks after giving up five third-period goals, four of which came in a span of 7:08.

"Makes you angry," head coach Jeremy Colliton said following a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers. "Because it's a game that you're looking for like, we needed this game. We didn't do the things right from the start to put ourselves in the best position to win. We just didn't have enough guys ready to play."

The Blackhawks picked up two out of a possible 10 points on their five-game road trip in Western Canada, but that wasn't necessarily indicative of how they played. All five games were there for the taking but they squandered opportunities to do so. A power-play goal here or there could've been the difference, but instead their drought is now up to 0-for-17 in their past six games.

It was a tough road trip for the Blackhawks, not just because they didn't get the desired results, but because it was a demanding travel schedule that started and ended in Winnipeg. But they wouldn't use that as an excuse even though it's a valid one at this time of year.

"To me, the story of the game tonight is, you're going to have games throughout the year where you don't have energy, where it's hard to find," Jonathan Toews said. "You've got to find the motivation to go out there and play your best game. It's just a mental thing that you have to do and that's just the name of the game, playing NHL hockey. That's one of the challenging things that if you want to make the playoffs and you want to be a winning team you're not going to feel at your best every night.

"There's going to be tough travel, tough schedule, a lot of adversity, things that pile up in your way and you've got to find a way to overcome it. So we didn't do that tonight." 

With Wednesday's loss, the Blackhawks fell to 1-5-2 in their past eight games after going 12-5-0 in their previous 17. They remain eight points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference but have four teams to jump, two of which have a game in hand.

Playoffs seem like a pipedream at this point, and you have to wonder how this latest spiral could impact the Blackhawks' plans ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline. It's always a challenging time of year for players, especially on teams on the outside looking in, but that doesn't mean it's time to wave the white flag.

"We have to think really short-term," Colliton said. "And that's tomorrow, how are we going to prepare? Because we didn't prepare well enough. The coaches have to do a better job of preparing the team, the team needs to do a better job of preparing each other, and individually they've got to do a better job of preparing themselves to play."

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Are the Blackhawks buyers or sellers?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Are the Blackhawks buyers or sellers?

Charlie Roumeliotis, Scott King, and Ben Pope join Leila on the panel.

0:00- The Blackhawks return home after two weeks on the road. Did they return to Chicago as trade deadline sellers? And what are the chances both goalies could be dealt by Monday?

12:00- Pat Boyle joins the panel. He gives his thoughts on the Blackhawks trade deadline plans.

14:30- David Ross says the Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo could hit 1-2 in the Cubs lineup in 2020. Will that solve their leadoff woes?

19:00- The Astros controversy just won't go away. The panel discusses.

21:00- The NFL reportedly wants to expand the playoffs to 14 teams and go to a 17 game regular season. Is this a good idea?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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