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Lifetime sentences of legal headshots

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I love hockey. It’s a fun time, and plays move faster and involve more skill than football. But both hockey and football are fast-paced, dangerous sports which sometimes lead to fights between players and traumatic injuries. One of the most dangerous injuries you can get in sports is a concussion, an injury to the brain which can occur due to a direct hit to the head, or an indirect hit, like a body check in hockey where the head whips around fast and unexpectedly.

In the NHL, 14 percent of concussions are caused by legal headshots, according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, which are “north-south hits to the head that did not specifically target the head,” the New York Times reported.

Hockey is not the only injury-intense game. Many sports, including professional and club, result in players getting concussions. The long-term impacts of concussions have not been studied until recently. The Boston University School of Medicine recently looked at the long-term effects as well as how to stop concussions from happening in games and practices.

One of the difficulties with concussions is that they are difficult to diagnosis, due to the fact that there are few physical symptoms. It’s not like a broken foot or a bruised knee, where the damage is more visible.

Concussion symptoms can by physical like headaches and nausea, which are often ignored or forgotten. This leads to athletes playing their sport when they already have a concussion, a very dangerous combination. This has been blamed, in part, for the 2011 death of Derek Sheely, a Frostburg University football player, according to the Baltimore Sun.

He received two blows to the head within two weeks of each other. These reoccurring hits injuries resulted in what’s called second-impact syndrome. The brain was not able to heal during the two weeks and is said to have resulted in his death.

Sheely is not the only athlete whose death has been blamed, in part, on head trauma. The deaths of three NHL players in 2011 have been linked by some to head trauma, including Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak.

Boogaard’s brain was explained in the Boston University study, where it was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a close relative of Alzheimer’s disease, except it occurs long before middle age.

CTE sometimes starts in athletes who are 20 to 30 years old, causing a downward spiral in their lives. “The longer you survive, the more and more the disease progresses,” Dr. Ann McKee, a leading researcher in the field, told CBS News.

CTE is said to be caused by repeated hits to the head and, unfortunately, can only be diagnosed after a brain autopsy. More than 85 brains were examined in the study, including retired football, hockey and other sports legends, in addition to military veterans, according to the Associated Press. The final research showed 68 of the 85 brains that experienced repeated and violent head trauma had CTE.

Symptoms of CTE can include impulsiveness, memory loss, mood swings, depression and drug addiction, the New York Times reported. These symptoms are sometimes ignored or confused as another problem. Boogaard, who was only 28, was said to be addicted to painkillers and sleeping pills.

Being able to spot CTE when athletes are alive, and creating therapies that will help veterans and athletes cope with CTE, are two steps that must be taken to combat the disease.

Last September, the NFL donated $30 million to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health to look into the effects of CTE and how to stop the progressions.

American hockey leagues re-evaluate and improve their rules every year. Most regulations deal with fights and how to stem violence so players are not injured in this fast-paced sport.

In 2011, steps were made by the NHL and the NFL to cut down on head injuries by eliminating head shots, called the new concussion-evaluation protocol. The protocol mandates players exhibiting “concussion symptoms be taken off the ice and off the bench and evaluated away from external stimuli by a team physician,” according to the New York Times.

Not only do steps need to be taken in professional and college sports to keep players safe, but also in high school and community games. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that each year about 300,000 concussions are sustained during sporting activities in the country, and more than 62,000 of those concussions are said to occur in high school contact sports. About 1.7 million people annually sustain a traumatic brain injury, according to the CDC.

In 2009, there were over 446,788 sports related head injuries treated in emergency rooms, according to an American Association of Neurological Surgeons study.

Violence in sports needs to be addressed. Head injuries in sports feature both current and long-term consequences. Sports, especially football and hockey, need more rules instituted to ban all head shots, from the professional all the way to the local and high school level.

Claire Anderson is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at clairea@student.umass.edu.

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