Why is taxpayers’ money spent ridiculing brain injury?

From RANDY STARKMAN’s blog in the Toronto Star*

(April 17, 2011)Why is public money being spent ridiculing catastrophic brain injuries?

We’re talking Don Cherry and his sorry act Saturday night on Coaches Corner on Hockey Night In Canada. You can watch it right here.  The really egregious stuff starts about 3:15 in.

We’re not just talking about NHLers’ brains here, for which Cherry obviously has complete disregard. Cherry’s act has a filter-down effect. He can’t ridicule brain safety in the NHL on one hand – and then tell kids not to check from behind.

Saturday’s taxpayer-funded rant was about Detroit’s Johan Franzen and how he was taken off the ice after crashing face-first into the boards and examined in a quiet room as required under the new NHL concussion protocol before coming back to play.

“He’s a pretty good guy, no visor,” Cherry tells his sidekick Ron MacLean. “You know the new protocol, as you call it. They have a quiet room. Now wait a minute. They have a quiet room and they must reflect. … And here’s what they do in the quiet room. They ask them his name.”

Then HNIC cuts to footage of an imprisoned Steve McQueen in solitary confinement in the movie Papillon. He’s beaten down, bedraggled and in a dark cell.

Cherry mockingly provides the voice for McQueen, seemingly adopting the voice of a player knocked groggy.

“It’s Franzzzen … It’s Franzzzen … It’s Franzzzen.”

You can barely hear Ron MacLean meekly saying what sounds like “You’re brutal, making fun of him,” before HNIC then cuts to footage of Franzen on the Detroit bench, his face all cut up, a bandage over his eye and white gauze up his nose.

Cherry then says: “Then he comes back on the bench and he turns to the trainer … He turns to the bench and he’s a little confused. He said ‘Who’s Franzen?’”

Cherry then laughs loudly and MacLean smiles.

“Steve McQueen, solitary confinement,” adds MacLean.

Cherry then gestures to MacLean with his thumb: “Produced and edited by you know who.”

MacLean adds with a big grin: “I know that’s bad. But it did look like that today when he went off into confinement. But he did come back and to his credit was great.”

Dr. Paul Echlin, one of the physicians leading the charge to curb the concussion problem, believes the CBC must take responsibility or it will remain part of the problem.

“It’s embarrassing to the CBC, it’s embarrassing to anybody who’s had a brain injury,” said Echlin, of London, Ont. “It’s crazy he’d make fun of the protocol. It’s there to protect players. There’s nothing mystical about the quiet room. It’s a separate dressing room without distractions where you can make a proper diagnosis.”

The fact HNIC used the clip from Papillon to make a farce of the new NHL concussion protocol shows it was a scripted, pre-meditated attemtpt to turn the concusssion catastrophe into a laughing-stock. It’s not Cherry acting alone. It took a team of HNIC staffers helping him and obviously MacLean, a former referee who should know better, too.

And this is the public broadcaster? The FAN590 and Global Television are both showing more class. It’s taxpayer money supporting the rant and ridicule. Is this what we really want? Meanwhile, at the other end of the public purse, more and more money is being spent dealing with head injuries in sport, particularly hockey.

So much of what Cherry says continues to go against the grain of brain safety and all the public education which is underway. Just before the Franzen thing, he lauded Brett Clark of Tampa Bay for taking a slapshot in the face and going right back into the game.

“Laughs it off like a warrior like we used to,” said Cherry.

“Good Saskatchewan boy, didn’t hurt at all.”

Meanwhile, MacLean alludes to it being like the slapshot New Jersey’s Scott Stevens took in the face from Pavel Kubina in the 2003 playoffs. Stevens suffered a concussion but kept playing and it effectively ended his career. The NHL recently noted 26 per cent of concussions came from accidental events, including getting hit by the puck.

At what point, does promoting brain injury become unacceptable?

It’s past the point where the CBC can keeping shrugging it all off as the rantings of a lovable old coot. The public broadcaster is becoming a danger to young hockey players.

“It’s a medical issue,” said Echlin. “You want the best information out there to the public. It’s not to be made light of, especially to young players, through a national broadcaster. And MacLean, too. He can’t be excused, either. When Cherry said he put the piece together, he was there laughing.”


Randy Starkman is Olympics reporter for The Star

* * *

One more round on three Cs – CBC, Cherry and Concussion

(April 19, 2011)The blog post “Why is taxpayers money spent ridiculing brain injury?” drew some spirited response on both sides of the equation.

Many argued Don Cherry and Ron MacLean were merely lampooning the NHL’s sorry attempts at dealing with concussions with their “Papillon” routine.

Maybe it was satire, but, really, what’s funny about brain damage?

That is what we’re talking about here. A guy who suffers a concussion in a game has suffered a brain injury. Continuing to play risks further brain injury. That is the situation that Detroit’s Johan Franzen was possibly facing last Saturday when he went face first into the boards.

Maybe the place where players are now checked out by a qualified physician for 15 minutes under the new guidelines instituted recently should be labelled the “examination room” instead of the “quiet room,” which was mocked by Cherry, to outline the important nature of what’s involved.

As the NHL study released Monday showed, one in five concussed players return to play in the same game in which they were hurt. They’re even more succeptible to more serious brain injury once they’ve been concussed.

What’s even scarier is the same thing is happening at an alarming rate in kids’ hockey.

I thought the most striking of all the responses received on the blog post came from DB Simon:

“I am among the many that used to agree with Don Cherry, but I now find him so out of touch with what’s going on that he is irrelevant. I coach kids hockey (novice & midget) and this past season alone have had 5 players with some level of concussion. All of these players thought they could go back out and play right away because that’s the mentality that they see from the pros. Thankfully the parents agreed with me and the players were held out of the rest of the game and subsequent games. Mr. Cherry always says he’s so in tune with the current game because he watches midget AAA games in the Toronto area – he needs to spend a year on the bench as a trainer and see what is actually happening to these kids when they get hit in the head and what the after effects are.”

That is the real point here. What these pros do influences kids. What Cherry says influences kids. And according to the coach in the trenches quoted above, the overall message Cherry’s delivering is part of the problem. And, yes, we know he says a lot of good things, too.

Former NHL star Keith Primeau, whose career was ended by coming back too soon from concussion, is one of many who’s said one of the keys to dealing with the concussion epidemic is changing the culture in hockey that you play through injury.

Jeff Keay, a spokesperson for the CBC, had this to say on the issue:

“Hockey Night In Canada takes the issue of head shots seriously and has frequently advocated for changes to rules and the way the game is played in order to achieve increased player safety.

“HNIC presents a wide range of opinion on the game, much like that of the Canadian public and overall we support a socially responsible position on how the game should be played.

“The segment in question was in no way intended to lessen the seriousness of the issue of head shots and we regret if we created that impression. We would also note that later in that same episode of Coach’s Corner, Don spent time offering explicit advice on how to avoid those sorts of injuries.”


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