Except for what I’ve seen on the news, and read on his caring bridge site, I don’t know this smiling hockey player. I don’t know his parents or his younger brother. I don’t know the record of the team for which he plays, or how many goals he might have this season, but I do know that his story has become an important one worth sharing. What I know about him is that he became, in an instant, the face of fear for hundreds of hockey players and parents around the country. He is the reason for this concerned contemplation.
It took little time for two opposing players to skate toward him at an incredible rate of speed and then collide into him from behind. It took even less time for him to hit the boards and to go from motion to stillness.
I can only imagine the hush that followed. That deafening silence that envelopes a group of people who realize that the line that we so regularly approach in sport had been tragically crossed.
In the retelling of the story I feel for his mom, and I can’t help it. It is with her I most identify. She loves her kids, she loves and supports their passion for hockey, and she has a writing niche online that covers so many facets of what it is to be a hockey mom. I can hardly imagine the heartbreak and the change in identity for everyone who’s close to this.
We don’t want this. No one wants this. No matter how much we adore speed, strength, and brute force, I have to believe we are still compassionate human beings who don’t want to see the most elite among us injured too badly to play the sports they love.
Yes, I know the statistics are pretty low for incidents of the most traumatic injuries, but it is hard to ignore how prevalent head, neck and back injuries have become for hockey players. According to Canadian journalist Dave Stubbs, 2011 was the year of the concussion for hockey. He names some of the biggest players who were sidelined for concussions in 2011 like Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger.
Because of the rash of injuries, awareness is certainly heightened, and I really hope it will start to be enough.
Hockey has evolved at a speed that matches its pace on the ice. According to the statistics at USA Hockey, membership in youth hockey increased from 200,000 in 1990-91 to nearly 600,000 participants in the 2010-11 season.
Along with the increased interest in the sport, the speed and strength of the players playing has also increased.
If you watch hockey as much as we watch it in our house, you would agree that the NHL game seems to be getting faster every year. While watching the NHL highlights of the 90’s, our 11-year-old son said, “It looks so slow.” He’s probably right, but even more important is how young players are achieving faster and faster speeds too.
Technology of the equipment is better, and the ice skates are faster than they’ve ever been. Speed camps are teaching kids how to be faster, but maybe what we need to spend more time on is how to stop. I couldn’t find a single camp that helps to teach kids how to stop well, how to brace for a ride into the boards, how to deal with a hit that they don’t even see coming.
We’re giving them speed, but the brakes are malfunctioning…and sometimes non-existent. Sixteen and seventeen-year-old boys with the speed of grown men, have a responsibility to use that speed wisely. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I cannot help but to think we’re not there yet.
I hate that the Benilde-St. Margaret sophomore lies in a hospital bed…especially if the entire thing could have been avoided.
Maybe now is the time. Maybe Jabby’s injury can be a wake-up call to start making the necessary changes to make hockey safer for the players who grow to love it. It takes just an instant to break someone. It takes time to build speed, and an equal amount of time should be spent on the stopping.
To learn more about Meagan or her current book project, Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, visit her at www.meaganfrank.com.