By Jonathon Brodie
Head injuries in sports need to stop.
That was something Charles Tator, a leading expert on concussions, and former NHL tough guy George Laraque could both agree on.
The two were at the John George Althouse Auditorium, on Western Road, speaking about the dangers of head injuries during Thursday’s (Oct. 20) conference Violence in Sports: Promotion in the Media.
Tator, a Toronto-based neurosurgeon, opened the discussion by giving people the realities of concussions.
“What treatment do we have for concussions?” Tator asked the audience. “We have no treatment for concussions, zero. We have no pill, we have no medication, we have no remedy and we have no exercise.”
Prevention, Tator added, is the only cure for concussions.
Sports cause 10 to 15 per cent of all brain and spinal injuries in Canada.
“The trauma does not have to be to the head,” Tator said. “If the blow is to the body for example and the head has a whiplash type effect, that could jiggle the brain sufficiently to cause a concussion.”
The easiest way, he said, a sport like hockey can bring down the number of concussions is by changing equipment like large solid elbow pads.
Laraque wore those bulky elbow gaurds in a lot of games during his 13-year career playing professional hockey. In over 130 fights while in the NHL, Laraque wasn’t wearing his gloves a lot of the time.
Laraque, now the Deputy Leader of the Green Party, said fighting wasn’t the issue when it comes to concussions in hockey.
“The real problem is the hits to the head,” he said. “When you fight on the ice you’re on skates and when you’re on skates you’re out of balance. So when you hit somebody in a fight, it’s not as big of a blow as you would think. When you skate 40 km/h and then you hit somebody with a flying elbow, this often causes concussions.”
In all of Laraque’s fights he didn’t receive a single serious head injury. He also doesn’t remember a single boo from the crowd after any of his fights.
He said he never worried about getting hurt while fighting and was always more concerned with the anxiety leading up to a fight.
“The fact that you’re fighting in front of an audience with a lot of people watching you and if you lose too many fights in a row, you can actually lose your job,” Laraque said. “You can be at home eating a happy dinner with your family and then you’re just thinking about the next fight you’re going to have and you can’t focus.”
Ron Wicks, another speaker at the conference, echoed Laraque’s cries for getting rid of hits from behind.
Wicks, a retired NHL referee of 26-years, started officiating before goalie masks became popular.
He had one simple rule to give to hockey players and referee’s to help bring down the number concussions in the sport- play smarter and get control of the game.
“Players need to respect each other more,” he said. “The whole integrity of the game hockey is in the referee’s hands.”
The University of Western (UWO) auditorium was filled with about 400 people, among them 250 delegates from the Thames Valley School Board (TVDSB).
“(Hockey players) are entertaining us,” said Peter Jaffe, a professor at UWO and TVDSB trustee. “But they’re also high school students, they’re also my students, they’re teenagers risking their lives in various ways looking for success.”