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Winter Sports TBI Awareness Month


Winter. Frozen lakes and snowy hills provide the playgrounds used for recreational and competitive sports such as ice skating, skiing, sledding, snowboarding and others. The natural beauty of a fresh blanket of snow and the thrill of skiing or sledding down a hill covered with it is not soon forgotten. But with the icy terrain and bitter cold conditions accompanying most winter sports, is it any wonder that the athletes and weekend warriors participating in them sustain a high rate of traumatic brain injuries?

In order to highlight the particular risks posed by winter sports, January has been designated Winter Sports TBI Awareness Month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has partnered with organizations such as USA Hockey, the NFL, and US Ski to raise awareness of the risk of traumatic brain injury in winter sports and to institute programs to minimize that risk.


Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a progressive, degenerative disease found in people who have suffered repetitive brain trauma. CTE was first associated with the sport of boxing, but has more recently been identified with professional football, the current film "Concussion" telling the story of Dr. Bennett Omalu discovering CTE in the brains of numerous former NFL players who had died. Through the work of Dr. Omalu and others, CTE is now understood to be caused by not only repeated concussions, but by repeated sub-concussive hits to the head. Ice hockey is a sport involving both repeated concussions and sub-concussive hits to the head, and unfortunately, NHL players are now following in the footsteps of their NFL colleagues.

Steve Montador was a ten year veteran with the NHL who retired in 2012 after sustaining a debilitating concussion while playing with the Chicago Blackhawks. Montador was found dead in his home in February 2015; he was just 35 years old. An autopsy confirmed he suffered from CTE. Montador's father, as representative of his estate, sued the NHL in December 2015 in federal court, alleging that the league's "insistence upon preserving and promoting violence in the game has contributed to cases of brain trauma, specifically CTE and premature death among current and former players."

A group of approximately 100 former NHL players has sued the league, accusing it of concealing the risks of concussions and putting the league's financial interests ahead of the wellbeing of its players.


The CDC has issued recommendations to help prevent TBIs in winter sports, as well as guidelines to follow once it is believed that an athlete or player has sustained a TBI. The preventative recommendations are: (1) wear approved, well-maintained and properly-fitted protection, such as helmets; (2) stipulate to a no hits to the head or other dangerous play in hockey and other winter sports; and (3) practice safe playing techniques. If a player or athlete is suspected to have sustained a concussion (which is the most common type of a TBI), the CDC guidelines state: (1) remove the athlete from play; (2) have the athlete evaluated by a health care professional experienced in detecting concussions; (3) inform the athlete's parents or guardians about the possible concussion and what signs they should look for; and (4) keep the athlete out of play the day of injury and until the athlete is determined by a health care professional experienced in treatment of concussions that he/she is fit to return to play.


While ice hockey has the highest rate of head injury associated with an organized sport, downhill skiing and snowboarding have the highest rates of traumatic brain injury for recreational sports. Next week's blog will discuss skiing and snowboarding, and take an up-close look at the world of Extreme Winter Sports.

If you or someone you know has been injured due to participation in a winter sport or recreational activity, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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