After my third concussion, the doctor said the choice was mine: wear a helmet and get laughed at, or don’t wear a helmet and never play hockey again.
Put that way, the choice wasn’t hard. I wore a helmet and got laughed at.
That was back when I was 15, during the days when no one wore helmets in hockey. But in a span of four months, I had suffered three concussions – two in football and one in hockey – and even though I didn’t want to take my doctor’s advice, I knew I had to if I wanted to keep playing the sports I loved.
And guess what? The laughter on the ice didn’t last long, and I never got my “bell rung” again.
It turns out I was very fortunate.
When it comes to concussions in sport, the medical evidence coming in from around the world is compelling: such injuries have significant short- and long-term health consequences and must be taken seriously. This is an important public health issue, not just for those who play sports, but for all Canadians.
Put another way, the time has come for all of us to take the doctor’s advice.
In terms of our approach to this issue, we can do better. And I believe we must. That’s why on Tuesday at Rideau Hall, we’re bringing together some of Canada’s leading authorities on sports concussions.
We’ll be joined by professional athletes and Hall of Famers, Olympians and Paralympians, medical experts, government leaders, coaches, teachers and parents.
We’ll be joined by Sport Canada, which is partnering with us to organize the conference. We’ll also be joined online by subject-matter experts and everyday Canadians from across the country through a webinar hosted by the Sport Information Research Centre. We’re reaching out broadly, at the grassroots level, to try to share with and hear from as many people as possible.
Our immediate goals for the conference are twofold: to raise awareness of the serious impact of brain injuries in sport, and to contribute to a national approach to make sports safer for all who play. That means athletes young and old, amateur and professional alike.
Together, we’ll talk about how to better prevent concussions from occurring in the first place. We’ll talk about how to detect, manage and monitor concussions that do occur. We’ll talk about the rules of play and how to educate coaches, parents, health professionals and players themselves on how to play more safely. We’ll cover all these bases and touch on as many sports as possible, because concussions can and do occur in all sports.
I was lucky as a teenager to have a doctor looking out for me who made me face the facts. I want to do the same for my 14 grandchildren and for all Canadians who want to play and enjoy sports safely and confidently, without hesitation and anxiety.
Unfortunately, a growing number of individuals and families are worried and asking the question: Is it safe to play sports? And yet sports are so important to healthy living and well-being. They’re part of our identities as individuals, as communities, as a country. They help us build so many life skills and bring us so much joy.
We have to ensure sports are played as safely as they can be, and when there are risks involved, that we’re aware of them and mitigate them to the greatest extent possible.
The choice of whether to act meaningfully on concussions in sport is ours, but I believe doing the right thing is never the wrong choice. We can and we must do better.
Watch the Governor General's Conference on Concussions in Sport live on Tuesday, December 6 and submit your questions to the panelists via Twitter by using #GGCC2016.