Head Games: New doc explores concussion crisis in sports

Former hockey star Keith Primeau lets his kids play hockey.

That may not sound entirely shocking until you consider the 15-year NHL veteran not only had his career cut short from head trauma, but admits his teenage sons have already experienced concussions themselves.

“Sports and athletics are an important part of social upbringing and they’re cultural experiences that (my kids) enjoy and I don’t think they should change that,” admits one of the subjects in the stirring new documentary Head Games, an exploration into the long-term effects of head injuries. “We don’t want to create this heightened sense of fear about sport and athletics so it’s a very fine line to walk,  to get people to understand it’s a real problem.”

Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), the film (in theatres Friday) is an eye-opening look at this “silent epidemic” spearheaded by former pro-wrestler Chris Nowinski. As the driving force behind the research that links chronic traumatic encephalopathy to the deaths of such athletes as hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard, he and advocates like Primeau battle a wave of denial.

“We’re dealing with a tremendous amount of ignorance,” said Primeau, who recently released Concussed — his own book on the subject. “Until you live a day in the shoes of a post-concussion sufferer, you shouldn’t speak on the subject ... I didn’t understand how severe it was.  Now being on this side, it’s not a fun place to be.”

Primeau knows it’s not an easy argument to make.

Even after the concussion that ended his career in 2006, he wouldn’t admit head trauma was as dangerous as it is.

“That’s become part of my mission, to try and change that cultural mindset,” said Primeau. “Winning or losing, at the end of the day, isn’t the most important thing — it’s about enjoying the ride.”

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