A Call For Action: Retired Players’ Safety

Rest In Piece, Monty.  Buffalo loved you.  Photo from nhlsnipers.com

Rest In Piece, Monty. Buffalo loved you. Photo from nhlsnipers.com

“They’re just whiny, overpaid babies.” “They get paid millions to play a game.” Insert over-repeated standard sportstalk hot take, delivered in the type of Midwestern diction made famous by Chris Farley and company as they hailed Coach Ditka and his crew. In the wake of what is being reported as a suicide committed by Steve Montador, another athlete plagued by concussions, it would appear that professional athletes are anything but.

We like to think of ourselves as more civilized than our predecessors who lived millennia ago. We have movies denouncing the treatment of Roman gladiators. We tuck our tongues firmly into our cheek and point out the utter lack of humanity that exists in a society that would gather to watch large men fight to the death. We deride them feeding their lizard brains and cheering loudly as freshly severed limb hits the ground.

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That’s about right!

Has any one of these people been to a sporting event lately? I have. I took my 11-year-old daughter to see the Sabres host the Senators last week. The gentleman in front of us yelled “HIT HIM!” every time a visiting player touched the puck. There is a segment in every Sabres’ game called ‘The Carubba Collision’ which celebrates the biggest hit delivered by a Sabre as voted on by the fans; clips are shown, and the winner is the clip which receives the loudest ovation. This night it was defenseman Josh Gorges who won the illustrious award by blowing up a Senator who was carrying the puck to the net. The crowd – largely silent, for reasons I don’t think I have to explain – went WILD! In fact, crowds everywhere go wild for big hits — not just in hockey, but in all sports. How many times have you been watching a football game with friends and a receiver coming across the middle gets destroyed by the safety? Everyone is up off the couch, pointing at the TV. Neighbors can hear the “OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” echoing from the living room. There are high-fives, clinked beers. No one is really thinking, “That receiver probably has a concussion. It will probably go undiagnosed, and he’ll pay for that for the rest of his life…”

Brooks' story of misdiagnosed injuries is far from uncommon.  Photo from chinlock.com

Brooks’ story of misdiagnosed injuries is far from uncommon. Photo from chinlock.com

Pro wrestling has often been mocked for its campy storylines and plotted, predictable endings to matches, but the men and women who take part in these shows are real, and their injuries are real as well. Last May, one of WWE’s superstars, CM Punk, left the company, and went on a campaign to pull back the curtain, exposing some of wrestling’s dirty secrets – especially in regard to injuries. Punk, or Phil Brooks, has spoken in several media outlets regarding the company’s attitude toward injuries. Many times during his tenure with the company, Brooks alleges that he was forced to wrestle mid-recovery from surgeries. Each time these surgeries were the result of injuries suffered while wrestling, and each time, Brooks says he was compelled to continue wrestling without adequate time to recover. He has also stated that the WWE’s concussion policy is largely a publicity stunt — that wrestlers are rarely properly diagnosed and often made to fight, cleared by doctors who have never seen the injured wrestler in-person.

Millions to play a game, indeed. Whiny babies, for sure. I’ve got a desk job. The risks are minimal: carpal tunnel, obesity, Vitamin D deficiency, and the occasional disgruntled employee. Day to day, though, the risk that I’ll leave my job never being able to walk again is slim-to-none. There is no risk of concussion, unless I slip on some water on my way to buy a danish from the vending machine and bang my head on a nearby desk. There I’ll lay, fistful of change clenched, dazed and thinking “This is what it must feel like to be an overpaid, whiny baby.”

Danish caused my conkie.  Photo from bagelshawaii.com

Danish caused my conkie. Photo from bagelshawaii.com

I’ll not sit by and be the pot, idly calling the kettle black. I’m guilty of this too; a couple of years ago, Boston Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron played game six of the Stanley Cup finals with torn rib cartilage, a broken rib, and a punctured lung. At some point the punctured lung collapsed. Around the same time this was occurring, Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose had benched himself following knee surgery, saying he wanted to be certain he was 100%. It was well beyond the estimated recovery time, and he had left his team high and dry in their playoffs. I was all over social media, denouncing Rose and championing Bergeron. Honestly, who am I to tell a man what to do with his body? If I have a slight cough, I’ll take the day off of work, and I have a feeling that most sportstalk callers would do the same.

The reports of Montador’s death sent shockwaves through the hockey world, and to a lesser extent, the sports world. The details of the death of former NHL player Derek Boogaard are well documented, as are countless others, in the NHL, the NFL, WWE, and more. We can’t hide behind ignorance any longer. Injured athletes frequently suffer from intense depression – especially those with concussion issues. There is no way to eliminate injuries from the game. Both professional and amateur sports are risky business, these men and women – and even children – risk their physical well-being on every play, which correlates to their mental well-being.

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? Photo from piercedhearts.com

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? Photo from piercedhearts.com

This is not a call to end violence in sports; that would be impossible. I’m not on a campaign to end fighting in hockey, or insist on harsher penalties for hits to the head. I am here today to plead with the average fan: Please, stop pretending. These athletes are gladiators, and the truth is that sports can indeed be life or death. We are the thousands of ‘savages’ who would pack the Coliseum to watch men brutally assault each other. I am also here to plead with the professional sports organizations throughout the world: Please take care of your players. Each of these leagues is making money hand-over-fist, all on the backs the athletes/performers who don the uniform. It is absolutely the responsibility of these leagues to care for these players once their time in the league has come to an end. The leagues must have a division of continued care for retired athletes. Leagues erect Halls of Fame – gigantic shrines costing millions of dollars – to pay tribute to those who made sports a thing we love so dearly, but we do not make their health a priority. The time has come when this is no longer acceptable. We, as fans, now have a voice, and we must use that voice to compel the leagues to do the right thing. Retired players’ safety should be as much a concern as the safety of those playing the game. The leagues must take immediate action and start allocating the proper funds. There must be a sense of urgency as though lives depend upon it.  Because they do.

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One Comment on “A Call For Action: Retired Players’ Safety”

  1. erikwollschlager February 17, 2015 at 9:37 am #

    Reblogged this on ewollschlager and commented:

    It’s time we were honest with ourselves about violence in sports, and it’s pathetic that the leagues that are making more many than some small countries take care of the players that got them this far.

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