Ounce of Prevention

Heads up hockey…and all other sports

Corporate sponsor Air Canada sent a letter to the National Hockey League this week citing their concerns as a major sponsor and linking their brand with “with sports events that could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents.” This comes on the heels of a season of injuries to hockey players including the latest to Montreal Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty.

In our collective memory, we cannot recall another sponsor that has threatened to withdraw financial support to the NHL or other professional sport league over injuries to players. We applaud you Air Canada. We applaud your conviction and intestinal fortitude to stand in the face of complacency to tackle one of the last remaining bastions of injury acceptance. Suffering a major brain injury or broken neck was never part of Lord Stanley’s intention when providing his coveted chalice for which we rally each Spring.

Injury has been part of sport since the dawn of time but does that mean we can’t learn from industries like aviation and automotive that have instituted changes in design, education, training to increase the safety of their employees and customers? These industries have applied basic risk management principles in considering that catastrophic injury can happen in the course of their activities and finding ways to minimize the frequency and/or severity of injury. For some reason, we do not seem to apply these same principles to our sporting environments with any strategic intent or demand for evidence. Surely though we can and must do better. We owe it to everyone who dreams of playing at the highest level of competition and those who play for fun, exercise and all the other good things we know come from sport and recreation activities.
We’re treading on thin ice now. We know hockey is a sacred institution and suggesting even moderate change is sacrilege but consider that a similar religion called NASCAR in the United States implemented speed restrictions in 1988. More recently they imposed further restrictions at the Daytona 500 in February to reduce horsepower and thus speed. Car crashes are part of NASCAR, but severely injuring or killing their drivers is not good for business. To them, driver and fan safety comes first. That’s a tenet we can believe in.
Some may argue that Chara should be suspended for a violent body check but we implore you to review the footage again. If the check had taken place another 20 feet down the boards there would be no discussion. The compounding matter in this instance, not unlike Nodar Kumaritashvili at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, is the built environment and the fact that a steel stanchion bar was left exposed, save for an inch of foam. Of course you can argue that players have skated past the stanchion bar a million times or more without injury but all it takes is one time. The built environment contributes to injuries in hockey and other sports and it is incumbent upon all those who build, operate and run programs in facilities like our hockey rinks to look at the environment through the lens of safety.
The built environment is only one piece of the larger injury puzzle but one piece that has been ignored for too long. As long as there are people moving around in confined spaces there will be collisions – it’s a simple matter of physics. However, we can do much to reduce the likelihood and the impact of collisions by expanding our perspective and considering the possibility of injury.

If NASCAR can consider the possibility of injury can other organizations do the same?

Air Canada thinks so, and so do we.

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Injury Prevention Team