Having observed the recent cases of the late Dave Dureson, Bob Probert and the seriously injured Max Pacioretty, former Canadiens goaltender par excellence Ken Dryden argues in Friday’s Globe & Mail, “the voices of the future will not be kind to us about how we understood and dealt with head injuries in sports…it is time to stop being so stupid.”
Why would we ever have believed that when the dizziness goes away, everything goes back as it had been before? All the little hits, scores of them in every game, so inconsequential that we don’t even know they’ve occurred – how could we not have known? How could we be so stupid?
I feel the same when I remember that the effects of smoking or of drunk driving were ignored for so long. I feel it when I think of women in the past having no right to vote and few rights of any kind, and when I think about slavery: How could people 50, 100 or 200 years ago not have known? How could they be so stupid?
I wonder what will make people say that about us 50 years from now. What are the big things we might be getting really wrong? Chemicals in our foods? Genetic modifications gone wrong? Climate change?
In sports, I think, the haunting question will be about head injuries. It wasn’t until 1943 in the National Football League that helmets became mandatory; in the National Hockey League, not until 36 years after that, in 1979. The first goalie mask wasn’t worn in the NHL until 1959.
And in a whole childhood and adolescence of playing goalie, I didn’t wear a mask until 1965, when I had to wear one on my college team. How could I have been so stupid?
We choose to ignore the fact that the “nature” of any game is always changing. Today’s hockey – in terms of speed, skill, style of play and force of impact – is almost unrecognizable from hockey 50 years ago, let alone 100. Likewise, helmets, facemasks, 300-plus-pound players and off-field, year-round training have transformed football.
These and other sports changed because someone thought of new ways to do things, others followed and nobody stopped them. In many cases, sports have had to change for reasons of safety or economics. For the sake of the players and fans and the game itself, these sports will and do need to change again.