head-games-the-movieeditedWarriors Without A War. Steve James documentary on this subject will make one think twice about sending your kids onto a playing field without proper precautions.
Head Games (documentary)
Narrated by Christopher Nowinski, with commentary by Robert Ganto, M. D., Gary Dorshimer, M. D., Brendan Shanahan, Cindy Parlow, Keith Primeau, Chayse Primeau, Mary Rounce and Isaiah Kacyvenski
Director: Steve James
Composer: Billy Corgan
Variance Films
Rating: PG 13 for sports violence
Running Length: 95 minutes
Living is dangerous, as anyone knows who is late for work, trips over a child’s toy, hits their head and ends up with a concussion. That is an accident. In contact sports, concussions are considered part of the territory. You run, you slam into, you tackle, you swing a bat, you wield a hockey stick and so on. Only in the past 20 years or so have sports taken seriously the effect of a concussion (or concussions) on athletes. Steve James documentary on this subject will make one think twice about sending your kids onto a playing field without proper precautions.
The film comes from Christopher Nowinski’s book, Head Games. Nowinski (who reminds me of D. B. Sweeney and was a pro football defensive tackle and pro wrestler) found himself with headaches and eventually ended up with a specialist in brain trauma, Dr. Robert Ganto. We learn what happens, scientifically, when the brain is jarred and not properly cared for afterward, and the cumulative effects of concussions, in which one might do major damage, and for others, hundreds of head traumas can happern before symptoms occur. Memory loss, depression, hand trembling, unsteady gait and if this sounds familiar, it was thought that only boxers got this after years in the ring.  Not so…knocks to the head can occur in any sport with the same results. As is stated in the film, players are "...warriors without a war."
Andre Waters and a college football player, Owen Thomas, are spoken of as two athletes who committed suicide because of head trauma. It wasn't thought that Thomas had experienced this until his brain was sent to be examined by experts who are collecting data on damage to the brain from concussions. It was determined that he had many small traumas that had a cumulative effect.
Nowinski now speaks to groups on safety for players, but meets with opposition from sports officials who deny that he has enough data. Several years ago, a group of physicians began a study to verify the effect of repeated concussions on players, though their study has been questioned.  
Hockey player Keith Primeau speaks of his career where he had six weeks of concussion symptoms before seeking help. Now, he tries to guide his son, Chayse, in the game of hockey, but when you are young and the game is exciting, it is hard to hold back. Women’s sports have the same difficulty, and an interview with Cindy Parlow, an Olympian medalist in women’s hockey, revealed that she retired early because of over 100 small head traumas.  She says, (as a younger player) “when I saw stars, my parents were angry at me….” so she hid symptoms.
There is a name for the symptoms from repeated head trauma, and it is CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. What to do? Faster recognition and treatment for a concussion is one, but what to do about sports which are becoming increasingly violent. Film footage of children in small sports league contact sports is unsettling. They are imitating violence of what grown-ups do and parents cheer on the sidelines. One wonders if parents would be there to help their children 30 years from now if symptoms appear. It is a thought provoking subject and brought to the forefront in this documentary.
Copyright 2012 Marie Asner
A complimentary copy of “Head Games” was provided by Variance Films.

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