Tell coach if your teammate takes a hit, concussion program urges
The Team Up Speak Up program is aimed at improved treatment of concussions.
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Hey kids: if you see a teammate take a solid hit to the head during a game, tell your coach or trainer.
Getting to the bench after a possible concussion is not new advice, but retired NHL great Eric Lindros and two other big guys who played college football at Harvard — one a CFL veteran and the other a WWE wrestler — are worried the message is not getting through.
So they’ve joined forces in a new effort called Team Up Speak Up, which aims to change the culture of concussions from the ground up.
Kids are being urged to “speak up” if they see a teammate take a nasty knock to the noggin because the consequences can be deadly, as was the case with 17-year-old Rowan Stringer in an Ottawa rugby game four years ago.
Coaches are asked to make quick one-minute speeches about the importance of that, posting them online by Sept. 12 with the hashtag #teamupspeakup to build momentum for the cause.
“We’re a team. That means we look after each other,” Chris Nowinski, known in his WWE days as Chris Harvard, said Tuesday as the concussion education campaign launched in the U.S. last year was unveiled in Canada.
Rugby Canada has signed on and it’s hoped more sports groups will, as NASCAR, USA Rugby, USA Hockey, Major League Lacrosse and the American Hockey Coaches Association already have south of the border.
“This program is all about being a good teammate,” added Tim Fleiszer, a Montreal native who won four Grey Cups during a 10-year CFL career as a defensive lineman. He now works as a player agent.
Both men, like Lindros, had their share of concussions and spoke of their passion to ensure kids get proper medical evaluations and treatment as quickly as possible.
“I lied about having a throbbing headache for five weeks,” recalled Nowinski, a Chicago native who with Fleiszer co-founded the Concussion Legacy Foundation — a registered charity under Revenue Canada — five years ago.
The parents of Stringer, the Ottawa girl who died suddenly from the after-effects of an unreported concussion, encouraged kids, parents and coaches to get behind Team Up Speak Up.
It’s the type of program that could have saved their daughter’s life, said Gordon Stringer.
“Had this been in place her outcome may have been different,” he told a news conference at Queen’s Park.
“We also need leadership from our professional athletes. These are the people kids are watching on TV.”
Rowan played in a rugby game while recovering from what she thought was a previous game’s concussion she had only told friends about — not her teammates, coach, parents or doctor.
During that game, she suffered “second impact syndrome,” a rapid swelling of the brain that can occur with a head impact too soon after a concussion.
“Teammates sometimes see things happen during a game that coaches and parents don’t,” Stringer’s father added, standing with his wife, Kathleen.
Lindros, a Hockey Hall of Famer who left the game in 2007 after 10 concussions, said kids can’t be expected to know when a bang to the head signals it’s time to stop playing.
“It is too much to ask young athletes to recognize their own concussion and take themselves off the field in the heat of battle,” he said in a statement.
“Research shows that even if they do know they have a concussion, they worry about letting down their teammates and their coach. By training athletes to speak up on behalf of teammates, we expect more athletes will have their concussion recognized and treated appropriately.”
Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, who has championed concussion issues at the Legislature, said she hopes the “grassroots level” of Team Up Speak Up will prevent more tragedies like Rowan Stringer’s death.
“If you’re the trainer, if you’re the captain of the team…have that conversation that we wouldn’t have had 25, maybe 30 years ago when I was playing minor sports.”
MacLeod was a driving force behind the 2016 passage of Rowan’s Law, which required the province to establish a legal framework to ensure youth sports governed by concussion protocols, with coaches, players and parents informed of the perils of head trauma.