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Athletes who suffer suspected head injuries at Curling Canada-operated events will be subject to a return-to-play protocol, it was announced Friday at Curling Canada’s National Curling Congress in Cornwall, Ont.
It was part of a new set of guidelines surround head injuries and protection that are being recommended for adoption by Canadian curling centres.
The concussion protocol, though, will be mandatory for all athletes attending events operated by Curling Canada, and falls in line with protocols in place for other non-contact sports.
“With so much more attention being paid to the issue of head injuries, it was time that Curling Canada took a proactive approach before something along these lines happened at one of our events,” said Hugh Avery, Chair of Curling Canada’s Board of Governors. “Protecting our athletes is vitally important, and we all know the ice can be very unforgiving, so I’m happy to see that we have this protocol in place going forward.”
When an athlete falls during a game, and a head injury is suspected, the athlete will be required to be examined by a physician and undergo tests to determine whether a concussion has occurred. If no concussion is diagnosed, the athlete can return to the game. Otherwise, the athlete will be required to undergo and pass a five-step testing process, each requiring a minimum 24 hours, before being cleared to return to play by a physician.
“We appreciate Curling Canada’s efforts in making sure the curlers’ health and well-being over the long haul is protected as best as possible,” said Jon Mead, president of the World Curling Players Association. “Obviously, this would only be utilized in extreme circumstances, but it’s important that the protocol is in place to avoid what could be a tragedy if not treated correctly.”
While the return-to-play protocol applies only to Curling Canada events, the national governing body is recommending that the guidelines covering head injuries and protection be adopted by Provincial and Territorial Sport Organizations as well as curling centres.
The guidelines cover such aspects as warm-ups that focus on stretching strengthening and improving balance; using proper equipment and making sure procedures are in place to detail with head injuries when they happen.
Additionally, the guidelines include a helmet policy that would strongly recommend using protective headgear, as well as grippers on both shoes (other than the player delivering the stone), for youth curlers 12 and under (unless they have two years of on-ice training), casual curlers (not in leagues) and curlers 65 and over.
(Editor’s Note: What follows is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the February issue of Concussion Litigation Reporter. To see the full article, subscribe at https://concussionpolicyandthelaw.com/subscribe/)
By Jon Heshka, Associate Dean of Law at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC Canada
Derek Boogaard played in the National Hockey League from 2005 to 2010. Standing at 6’7” and weighing approximately 270 pounds, he was a prized pugilist. Over six seasons with the Minnesota Wild and the New York Rangers, Boogaard played in 277 regular season games, scoring three goals, participating in at least 66 fights and accruing 589 minutes in penalties. After five seasons with the Wild, his final contract was a four year $6.5 million deal contract with the Rangers.
His chosen craft, however, came with a cost. Boogaard’s complaint, filed by his surviving parents, listed the dozens of injuries he sustained while playing in the NHL, including concussions and sub-concussions, broken noses, torn shoulder tissues, facial lacerations, contusions, muscle strains, herniated disks, and teeth fractures.
The District Court noted that Boogaard was an “Enforcer/Fighter” who in the NHL fought at least 66 times often leaving him with painful injuries, which team physicians, dentists, trainers and staff treated using “copious amounts of prescription pain medications, sleeping pills and painkiller injections.”
Boogaard’s lawsuit claimed that he was provided copious amounts of prescription pain medications, sleeping pills, and painkiller injections by NHL teams’ physicians, dentists, trainers and staff. For example, during the 2008-09 season Boogaard sustained a tooth fracture, underwent nasal surgery and had shoulder surgery and was prescribed 1,021 pills from ten Minnesota Wild or San Jose Sharks teams’ physicians and dentists plus 150 Oxycodone — a Schedule II controlled substance because of its high potential for abuse — pills.
Boogaard died of an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers and alcohol on May 13, 2011. He was posthumously found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — the same neuro-degenerative disease at the core of the now settled nearly $1 billion class action lawsuit against the National Football League.
Boogaard’s parents filed suit against the National Hockey League, its Board of Governors and Commissioner Gary Bettman (collectively, “NHL”) alleging that the NHL negligently failed to prevent Boogaard from becoming addicted to opiods and sleeping pills, that the NHL breached its voluntarily undertaken duty to curb and monitor Boogaard’s drug addiction while he was enrolled in the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program (“SABH Program”), that the NHL was negligent in failing to protect Boogaard from brain trauma during his career, and that the NHL breached its voluntarily undertaken duty to protect Boogaard’s health by failing to prevent … (for the full summary, visit https://concussionpolicyandthelaw.com/subscribe/ to subscribe)
By Cynthia P. Carels, of Miller Thomson
Concussion, the latest movie by actor Will Smith, opened in theatres across North America over the recent holiday season, and has stirred up plenty of discussion about head injuries. The story behind the movie focuses on the research of Dr. Bennet Omalu, regarding the damage professional football players in the NFL were suffering from repeated hits to the head. In 2015, a federal court judge approved a class-action lawsuit settlement agreement applying to thousands of NFL players who developed serious medical conditions as a result of their career-related head trauma.
In Canada, a 2015 Coroner’s Inquest in Ontario also examined the issue of concussion in the context of sport. 17 year old Rowan Kerry Stringer, the captain of her Varsity rugby team, passed away on May 12, 2013 after a series of game related head injuries caused severe swelling to her brain. In the Stringer Inquest, concussion was described as “an invisible injury … often not recognized as being a serious condition with potentially severe consequences, despite many initiatives to change this perspective.” These consequences can include (amongst other things) headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, impaired attention span, mood swings, memory loss, and even death.
Many strides have been made in our understanding of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) since the events depicted in Concussion. Even still, it can be challenging to sort out their impact in the context of a personal injury claim. Plaintiffs may have pre-existing conditions at play that have been aggravated by an accident. Some victims may even be in denial about their symptoms, or have no personal insight, while their family members complain about significant personality changes after a loved one’s trauma.
Neuropsychologists are experts with specialized training regarding brain structure and systems and their connection to behaviour and thinking. Neuropsychological testing can be very helpful in determining the damages a head injury has caused, and how it may impact a victim’s career, home life, and even recreational activities.