Science Suggests That Maybe Wideman Deserves Less

Three years ago, around Christmas time, I was hit in the head by a falling two by four. Rising nearly 20 feet in the air, the board came out of nowhere, and just grazed the back portion of my head. It forced my neck downwards with the top of my spine and shoulders receiving the brunt of the blow. I felt okay for about 30 seconds, then the room began to spin. I shrugged it off, pulled out my phone, and realized I couldn’t see the numbers to dial someone to come and help. I think I panicked because I started to feel sick, so much so that I had to lay prostrate on the floor. Finally my wife found me, and apparently more time had passed than I realized. My symptoms remained the same — dizzy, sick to my stomach, trouble focusing with eyes, sleepy — which quickly prompted a trip to the hospital.

A scan of my upper half revealed no broken bones. A CT scan revealed no major brain trauma. In the end the diagnosis was simple, but symptomatic — I had a concussion.

The world is currently swept up in the discussion of head trauma mainly because we really don’t know a ton of things about it. Prevention is difficult, symptoms vary, and diagnosis is problematic. But in the end it is a topic that we will have a firm grasp on in the next 10 years, this feels inevitable. But as we wait for true answers in the world of sports head trauma we continue to see odd things happen. Like Dennis Wideman cross-checking an official.

If you missed how the events unfolded, stop, and watch it:

Wideman has been banned from play for 20 games, which will be appealed, and potentially dropped to 10 games (or fewer).

We know that Wideman was apparently “spotted” as potentially concussed, and that will be a huge crux of the argument when the appeal is being settled.

via LA Times:

A key issue: whether a concussion Wideman suffered on a previous play should lessen his punishment because it might have affected his judgment when he cross-checked the unsuspecting official.

The concussion spotter on duty reportedly told the Calgary bench Wideman showed signs of a concussion but Wideman insisted on continuing. That’s a huge flaw in the system.

So the events unfold in three parts. Miikka Salomäki hits Wideman along the boards, seemingly impacting the head. Wideman then watches the play going on up the ice, raises a stick to the upper half of the official, makes contact, then skates immediately to the bench. The finale ends with Wideman sitting on the bench, a trainer tending to him, speaking into his ear.

The odd thing about this play is what transpires in the third act — Wideman on the bench. You fall on two sides of the fence by suggesting he is a good actor, and capable of pretending the events were an accident or that he was simply “in a fog” due to concussion-like symptoms.

The Mayo Clinic and the World Health Organization define concussion symptoms as being six non-exclusive factors.

  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
  • Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
  • Dizziness or “seeing stars”
  • Ringing in the ears

The list gets expanded with each passing year, and now includes:

  • Changes in physical coordination
  • Irritability
  • Disorientation
  • Inability to recognize places or people.

Could a concussion have prompted Wideman to do what he did?

The answer is — maybe.

The NHL’s official statement on the actions is as such:

“It is accepted that he had suffered a concussion. However, that fact even accepted as true cannot excuse Wideman’s subsequent actions. Although he appears to get up slowly from being checked, Wideman skates steadily and purposefully to his bench, taking a half-dozen strides to get there. Wideman also demonstrates his continued awareness of his circumstances and surroundings when upon approaching the Calgary blue-line, he raises his stick and then taps it on the ice to alert his teammates he is coming off for a line change.”

It is an odd turn of events, there is no doubt, but there is science backing the idea that the hit was a result of a concussion-like state.

Popular Science, like many others, has done some digging when it comes to the functioning of the brain at the moment of impact. Dissecting a hit in the NFL one scientist explains it as such:

“His neural impulses wouldn’t be normal, which means his reaction times are slow, his coordination is acutely off, and he could suffer from a cluster of symptoms,” he says. In other concussions, these symptoms have included fatigue, sensibility to light, irritability, and depression.”

He also suggests that less-immediate symptomatic issues would include:

“trouble retrieving memories, making new ones, controlling their impulses, and keeping anger in check.”

Nothing is so earth-shattering about that statement to cause finger-pointing, but there certainly is enough evidence to suggest that a confused, injured brain, even of the slightest variety might cause a “scrambling” of the moment.

But some suggest that this is exactly what happened to Wideman.

via USA TODAY Sports:

“There are obviously some immediate effects,” Jacob Sosnoff, an associate professor University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has studied concussions, told USA TODAY Sports. “One of the things you can lose is impulse control, which is the ability to stop your actions. We know that is impacted by traumatic brain injury.”

I’m included to believe Sosnoff, who has done extensive research in this area since 2006.

As I watch the events unfold far too many times it is so hard to truly gauge “intent” – a word often tossed around. The subjective nature of the word is fraught with problems, and in this case “intent” is hard to wrangle in. I can see Wideman being angry with the official, but I also know (and from personal experience) how disorienting a head injury can be.

Will they lessen the games? I think so. Should they? Based on the science. Perhaps.

More concussion talk in the news: