Risk is an ugly reality in sport

It is interesting how society views sport. Most people are able to separate out the humanity of the athletes from the action taking place in front of them. After covering sports for the better part of 14 years before moving into the managing editor’s chair and being a failed athlete growing up, I have seen all sides of this and am as guilty as anyone for getting lost in the illusion.

It is interesting how society views sport.

Most people are able to separate out the humanity of the athletes from the action taking place in front of them. After covering sports for the better part of 14 years before moving into the managing editor’s chair and being a failed athlete growing up, I have seen all sides of this and am as guilty as anyone for getting lost in the illusion.

We do not like to think of our entertainment pieces as weak or fallible physically. They are supposed to be able to fight through whatever injury comes their way, lest they be known as soft or wimps or by other more derogatory monikers.

Toughness makes for a better story, it helps us create legends that will be passed down for generations

The leagues which run sport at the highest level refuse to admit publicly, or to their stock, the potential dangers of their sport.

Both football and hockey leagues have been hammered by lawsuits about the refusal to disclose or accept information about the long-term effects of head injuries to their athletes and improperly rushing them back into action, though simultaneously introducing new rules to help prevent these incidents.

I can understand both ends of the argument to a large degree.

Up until the last 10 or 15 years, there was very little known about the long-term effects of concussions and even less of an understanding by the broader public.

It used to be you got your bell rung and your coach would tell you to shake it off and get back out there.

In my final year of hockey at our annual midget tournament in Kitscoty in 2000, I was cross-checked over the head as I went to go hit another player. I was diagnosed with my sixth concussion, five of which are from playing hockey.

My coach was floored that I was going to be on the sideline at all, incredulously saying, “In all my years of coaching I have never had a player miss any time because of a head injury.”

I missed the next six weeks and still came back too early. To this day I still suffer effects from my concussions.

That was one incident, but I know it is a story that can be repeated many times in many different sports.

While I do expect the major sports leagues had better information than my minor hockey coaches at that point in time, the culture of being uber-tough and fighting through it was still wide-spread and the science they had was still not great.

The NHL and NFL have a long list of former players who continue to suffer the consequences of a career in their respective vocations, and an unfortunate list of those who have died, unable to cope with those ailments.

The other end of it is, these sports have always been dangerous and the possibility of life-altering injuries has always been a real risk. This is something athletes have long known, even if they refuse to acknowledge it. Everything from broken bones to blown-out knees to paralysis, especially in contact sports, are strong likelihoods. Stories of taking pain killers leading to drug abuse in dealing with these injuries go back a long way. Head injuries are just the latest risk added to the pile.

It is an ugly truth.

While the leagues should support those athletes who helped build them into billion dollar empires to a greater degree, athletes pleading ignorance to the potential risks — regardless of the sport — is tough to swallow.

But here’s the greater question, do we as fans really care how the sausage is made?

We made athletes like Lawrence Taylor and Scott Stevens legends because of their aggressive, predatory style. Enforcers like Bob Probert, Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard were fan favourites, and not because of their offensive abilities. While some, like my wife, become distressed when a fight breaks out, many more rise to their feet in anticipation, including myself.

Combat sports have always held a high place in society, pre-dating the days of gladiators fighting in coliseums. In the last 100 years boxing has given way to mixed martial arts, which is supposed to be a less damaging sport to the athletes because it focuses on technique and submissions — but talk to the average fan and they want to see the big knockout. Georges St-Pierre was one of the two biggest names in the sport for several years, but he was roundly criticized because of his inability to finish an opponent with a knockout.

It is a delicate balance that must be weighed by all parties: what are athletes willing to accept as risks for the millions of dollars they could potentially earn? How much of a blind eye are the owners willing to turn? And what are we as fans ready to accept as lives being damaged all for our amusement?

jaldrich@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read