Out of Bounds: Lack of support system further harms concussion victims

Athletes who suffer from post-concussion syndrome are prone to a myriad of cognitive, emotional and behavioral issues such as depression, decreased self-esteem, anxiety and loss of memory function. Coupled with the stigma associated with mental health issues, a lack of resources for these individuals can take a terrible—even deadly—toll on individuals.

Roughly two months after the death of former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador—who suffered from a career-ending concussion in 2012—Blackhawks forward Dan Carcillo released a video on The Players’ Tribune on April 22. Carcillo reflected on the problems that Montador and many other athletes have encountered under post-concussion syndrome.

“I saw the deterioration of [Montador’s] mind and he must have felt that as well … seeing the number of sets of keys he had for the same lock kind of tells you the story of what was going on with him in his head with his memory loss and mental state,” he said. “He was trying so many things to reverse the symptoms or feel normal and he just couldn’t.” Carcillo noted that PCS could bring individuals to “a dark, dark place,” a sentiment echoed by many of his fellow players that he talked to about concussion experiences.

Carcillo stressed that there needs to be a better system of support from the National Hockey League administration so that these individuals can receive the physical, mental and emotional support needed to keep them healthy and alive. According to Carcillo, the “exit program” for those who leave the game due to concussions consists of a phone call or two to check up on the players.

I was stunned and angered by this. How can an industry that generates so much revenue from the dedication and sacrifice of the athletes leave the same people to basically fend for themselves while potentially encountering serious, debilitating issues?

Carcillo’s video is not the first call to action that the NHL has received with regards to their negligence concerning players who suffer from concussions. Ten former NHL players filed a lawsuit in November 2013 against the NHL for, according to Grantland.com, “[failing] to do enough to reduce the risk of head injuries and educate players about the issue.”

The New York Times reported that 29 additional players signed the lawsuit in February 2015. Montador himself had plans to add his name to the lawsuit a month before his passing. The National Football League just settled a similar lawsuit, which could give a total $1 billion to thousands of former players.

A component in the lawsuit that struck me was the notion that, “The obvious expectation is that any player who is struck in the head by a fist, elbow, punch, check or fall to the ice should be tough enough to stay in the game.” This socially-embedded construct of preserving one’s “toughness” hurts those who suffer from PCS, as they don’t want to feel or be perceived as vulnerable by reaching out for help.

If an athlete breaks his leg, they’re most likely going to undergo some sort of physical therapy afterwards to help regain strength. Why should it be any different for brain injuries? The NHL needs to implement some sort of counseling or support program in order to monitor the health of athletes with PCS and to help them overcome the mental and emotional issues they may now have to face.

No one should have to feel like they are alone in a battle with mental illnesses.