Shedding Light on Ice Hockey Blackouts

Miller-McCune magazine highlights current research that merits a raised eyebrow or a painful grin.
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In the first period of Game 3 of the National Hockey League's Western Conference Finals, the Chicago Blackhawks' leading scorer, Martin Havlat, was knocked unconscious by a vicious body-check that sent him sprawling to the ice; his eyes were closed as teammates and medical personnel closed in around him.

Two days later, he skated back out onto the ice for Game 4.

Some folks would say, "that's just hockey," and let's face it, most of those folks live in Canada, where the sport is akin to a religion, despite being the main cause of sports-related traumatic brain injury. But a recent study from the University of Toronto, after analyzing the concussion knowledge of Canadian coaches, trainers, parents and almost 300 players at different minor-league levels (from 10-year-olds to elite university and AA leagues), has uncovered a startling lack of knowledge about the impacts of concussions on athletes. Among the more sobering findings, all of which dramatically underestimate the seriousness of the brain injury called concussion, as published in the May edition of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences:

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• Two-thirds of players mistakenly thought an athlete has to lose consciousness to sustain a concussion.
• About half of players and a fifth of adults wrongly believed concussions are treated with medication or physical therapy.
• About a quarter of players didn't know if an athlete with concussion symptoms should continue playing.
• About 4 in 10 younger players and 3 in 10 older players believed a concussed athlete could return to the ice when feeling "90 percent better" or "while experiencing a mild headache for the next game as long as it's at least two days later."

As they say up north, "Pretty scary stuff, eh?"

The Importance of Personal Inspiration in Research
Here's the introduction to the paper "Interacting With Women Can Impair Men's Cognitive Functioning" by four researchers at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands (no mention of whether concussions were involved):

"Some time ago, one of the male authors was chatting with a very attractive girl he had not met before. While he was anxious to make a good impression, when she asked him where he lived, he suddenly could not remember his street address. It seemed as if his impression management concerns had temporarily absorbed most of his cognitive resources. The current research examines the possibility that mixed-sex interactions indeed can be cognitively taxing, resulting in temporary impairments in cognitive functioning."

Gosh, James Carville Would Have Loved This Story
To test how distracting cell phone beeps, vibrations and ringtones can be in classrooms, researchers at Louisiana State University tested students on simple word-recognition tasks while being exposed to a range of auditory interruptions.

These included random tones, standard cell phone rings and, most horrifying of all, snippets of something very familiar to LSU students: the LSU fight song. The researchers note that song became a popular cell phone ringtone while being played "incessantly" around campus as the LSU football team made its fall 2007 run to the college national championship game.

Don't know the tune? Maybe the lyrics will provide a clue to its distracting qualities: "Hey Fightin' Tigers, fight all the way! Hey, Fightin' Tigers, win the game today. You've got the know-how, you're doing fine, hang on to the ball as you hit the wall and smash right through the line! You've got to go for a touchdown, run up the score. Make Mike the Tiger stand up and roar —ROAR!!! Give it all of your might as you fight tonight, and keep the goal in view! Victory for LSU!"

"When we played the fight song as part of our lab experiments, the distraction factor lasted longer," noted lead author Jill Shelton in a press release. "It slowed down their decision-making performance for a longer time than even a standard ringtone."

Shelton failed to add, however, how many of her colleagues were forced to run screaming from the lab with their hands over their ears, never to be seen again.

And Finally, The Last Word
"We can't see actual penguins on the satellite maps because the resolution isn't good enough. But during the breeding season the birds stay at a colony for eight months. The ice gets pretty dirty, and it's the guano stains that we can see." — Peter Fretwell, of the British Antarctic Survey, on his paper "Penguins from Space: Faecal Stains Reveal the Location of Emperor Penguin Colonies." And science marches on ...

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