Yes, the NHL is in a lockout, but that shouldn’t distract us too much from the fact that head injuries are occurring way too much in the sport. Created by award-winning director Steve James and based off of a book written by former Ivy League football star and WWE wrestler Christopher Nowinski, “Head Games,” exposes viewers to one of the leading public health issues not just in hockey but in all sports. Not only was James trying to spread the work on the trouble of concussions from sports, but also of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is a brain disease caused by repeated head trauma.
The NHL has made great strides to protect their players, some may say that they have gone over the line, but when it comes to concussions, there is no line to cross. The NHL has funded a lot research into new protective gear to save players brains from severe trauma and James acknowledged this in “Head Games.” The documentary features some prominent members of the NHL, including NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations and Player Safety Brendan Shanahan and Dr. Ruben Echemendia, who chairs the NHL/NHLPA Working Concussion Group.
James said this on the cooperation of the NHL in his documentary:
“Not only did the NHL give us top guys, important guys that relate to this issue, they also cooperated with us by allowing us to use footage despite clearly knowing that the footage was going to be fighting, as it relates to this issue. How can it not be and have any credibility? They knew that and they still cooperated. I give them a lot of respect for that.”
(Where’s all this cooperation right now with the NHLPA???? Anyway, I digress.)
Shanahan earned his role in the documentary after his role in the Department of Player Safety Videos that are well-known by now. His most notable quote in the film is:
“It’s our goal to eliminate as many needless injuries as we can and to be very clear and educational when we make those decisions. That’s why we do the videos.”
The film also documents the story of former NHL captain Keith Primeau, a big forward who saw his career cut short in 2005-2006 when he suffered his fourth reported concussion. After the fourth concussion, he was told by the trainer, “You’ll never be cleared to play in the NHL again.” The only feeling Primeau had when he heard that was relief. Primeau and his family are featured a lot, including his one son who currently plays hockey. James focuses on Primeau because of the intriguing story of a former athlete who suffered too many concussions dealing with kids who play sports and are constantly at risk. James says his story is at the heart of the issue facing today’s athletes:
“He’s such a thoughtful person on this issue, very expressive on the issue. The fact he has two sons that play hockey and we got to (use) one of them in the film points out a lot that is difficult for parents who have kids that play sports — especially for ex-athletes who want their kids to get the same experience and pleasure even if they don’t make it to the NHL.”
Primeau tells a short story about a conversation he had with his daughter near the end of the film:
“My daughter asked me the question, ‘Daddy, should we not play if we can get hurt?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s your decision. You don’t have to play if you don’t want, but there is no guarantee in life.’ I think that’s the right answer. I’m not 100 percent sure.”
The film then ends with Primeau leaving the audience with one final statement, saying three of his four kids have suffered a concussion.
This is such an important subject in sports today. Having suffered three concussions myself, I know the effects that concussions can have on the brain. Since my last concussion two years ago, my doctor has diagnosed me with chronic migraines. So, I asked him if this had to do with the three concussions that I’ve had. He responded, it’s very likely, post concussive syndrome can lead to migraines, difficulty focusing and irritability. Unfortunately, My friends and family have noticed and told me that I recently have been more irritable than ever before. My migraines can come out of nowhere at any point of the day, during any kind of activity. Car headlights at night seem to effect me more now. I can’t listen to loud music as much as I used to. All this and I’m only 20 years old, turning 21 in January.