Hockey coaches still not getting the message on concussions

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The evidence is mounting that routine hits during contact sports especially football and hockey can cause long-term brain injury, but somehow that news hasn t made it into the heads of hockey coaches, who continue to put young athletes at risk, according to a pair of new studies.

In a report published in the scientific journal Brain, researchers from the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System analyzed brain samples posthumously of 85 people who had suffered repeated head trauma. They found 68 of them nearly all athletes had signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a form of brain damage associated with dementia, poor judgment, tremors and deafness. (Among the athletes whose brains were analyzed was Derek Boogaard, a hockey enforcer whose troubled life and death from an overdose of painkillers and alcohol was the subject of a must-read New York Times series last year).

But shockingly, hockey coaches continue to keep concussed players on the ice even when they re taking part in a major concussion study, according to a mind-boggling new report published in Neurosurgical Focus.

Two unnamed Canadian university teams a men s team and a women s team repeatedly ignored the advice of a physician observer and played athletes who seemed to be suffering from concussions, telling players to skate it off. These self-serving decisions were made by the coaches but the athletic trainers were also complicit, by silence at least.

Unless something is broken, I want them out playing, said one coach, according to the study. The coach of the women s team overrode medical advice, even though her own playing career had ended because of concussions.

The coaches cooperation eventually improved once the researchers stressed the long-term damage their actions might be doing to their athletes health.

I think this message needs to be delivered a little more forcefully possibly with a cross-check to the head, ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross says.