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Why New Concussion Rules Aren't 'Wussifying' Sports

As the NHL continues discussing its rising concussion epidemic, one former NHL player has changed his tune about the necessity of increasing player-safety measures.

"Mad" Mike Milbury, the 12-year veteran of the Boston Bruins who gained notoriety for once beating a fan with his own shoe, recently expressed his concern about head injuries for hockey players of all ages. In other words, this turnaround was about as unlikely as Ron Artest becoming the NBA's de-facto mental-health spokesman. (And in the spirit of full disclosure, Milbury is the father-in-law of a former EdWeek employee.)

"I have 11- and 12-year-old boys," Milbury said last month, according to The Globe and Mail. "Even at that level they're going at each other. I see some of the kids go underground when they play because they don't want to get wasted. At that age, their heads and necks are not developed. They're more susceptible to concussions and the after-effects, and, duh, does it take more than that? They should take hitting out till kids are in bantam."

To the NHL's credit, the league did enact new concussion policies in mid-March, requiring teams to take any players suspected of having a concussion to a quiet place for examination. Before the new rules, teams would have doctors examine players with potential concussions in their bench area.

But, as Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero told NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen, the new concussion policy still has room for improvement. Shero told Rosen that his teenage son suffered a concussion playing hockey recently, and didn't display symptoms until days later.

"Sometimes you get hit and you are ready to go," Nashville Predators GM David Poile said to NHL.com. "Sometimes symptoms don't come for a long time. A lot of times symptoms might not be there until after 15 minutes. But once again, it's an effort to take care for the player and try to put him in an environment that is safe and do the right thing. We're not going to be 100 percent when we do these things, but I think it's a big step to help."

With more than a dozen U.S. states now having youth-concussion laws on the books, and three of the four major U.S. professional sports organizations (MLB, NFL, and NHL) sinking their teeth into concussion safety issues, one can hope it's only a matter of time before all sports groups adopt new policies regarding concussions and head injuries.

"People have to understand that it's not succumbing to something different," said Keith Primeau, who retired from hockey in 2006 because of concussions, to The Globe and Mail. "It's not to be feared. I understand that now."

Besides, remember what the potential alternative is: a whole slew of athletes suffering from tragic deaths brought on by head injuries, concussions, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

One other famous sports figure who's gotten the message on concussions: John Madden. The NFL legend, whose Madden football games have sold nearly 100 million copies worldwide in 22 years, announced that all future Madden games will not display helmet-to-helmet tackles or "dangerous headfirst tackling," according to The New York Times. Furthermore, any player who suffers a concussion in Madden 2012 will not be allowed to return to the field during that game. (In previous versions, concussed players could return to the field the quarter after sustaining a concussion.)

"Concussions are such a big thing, it has to be a big thing in the video game," Madden said in a telephone interview with the Times. "It starts with young kids—they start in video games. I think the osmosis is if you get a concussion, that's a serious thing, and you shouldn't play. Or leading with the head that you want to eliminate. We want that message to be strong."

Phil Frazier, executive producer of Madden 12, called the game "a means to educate" and "a teaching tool."

Chris Nowinski, co-director of the Sports Legacy Institute, threw his support behind the move when contacted by the newspaper: "Considering how hard it is to reach young kids and expose them early, this is brilliant. You're training kids from the cradle to play sports more safely. If you get a concussion, come out of the game. You can't unteach that."

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