Dr. Neil Craton of Winnipeg's Legacy Sports Medicine and the Blue Bombers' team physician said today's athletes, especially the high-performance ones, are light years ahead of those in the not-too-distant past when it comes to being truthful about concussion symptoms.
Awareness and education about these mild traumatic brain injuries, a.k.a. concussions, are driving the progress and no better example than Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele, who was forced to miss one of the biggest games of his life.
Last May, Scheifele took a regular kind of body check and slid into the boards during Game 6 of the Ontario Hockey League championship series. He suffered a concussion and was not able to play for his Barrie Colts two days later in Game 7 of the series.
Asked about the episode, Scheifele said Friday there was a kind of battle between his heart and his head about trying to play that Game 7, despite the concussion.
"It was pretty tough," Scheifele said. "Sitting out of that Game 7 as probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. To watch my team on TV, not even be able to be there, not be able to help at all, I just felt so helpless. It was a really tough feeling. It was obviously a pretty serious time with a lot of pressure that I put on myself.
"I wanted to be OK, I wanted to be OK. I kept telling myself that and my heart was telling me I had to play in that game, I just had to play in that game. When you take a step back and really think about it, you know how you feel and you know what's smart and that's a pretty important thing.
"Being a competitor, you want to be out there, you want to play. You don't want to sit out a game. But it was the whole support group of family, my agent, even Dale (Hawerchuk, his coach), they were all looking out for me. That really helped a lot.
"It was a lot about thinking about the rest of your life, the rest of your career, and I think that's the biggest thing, that you have the rest of your life ahead of you. (After the concussion) I wanted to see how the next day or so went to see how I felt, but everyone that knew me knew I wasn't feeling the best and they were all looking out for me."
Scheifele said that today's awareness in contact sports about concussions would make it difficult to conceal symptoms, as was more common in the past.
"Now, kids have such an awareness of it early and that's a huge thing," Scheifele said. "You have so many people around and it won't be like you're the only one who knows about the symptoms, or that the trainer is the only one who knows about concussion.
"Every person that you're hanging around with every day knows the symptoms of a concussion and that's such a big thing, that everyone has awareness and everyone knows what to look for."