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Study finds newspapers have changed coverage of ice hockey concussions over last quarter-century

TORONTO, April 17, 2013 Newspapers are paying more attention to the severity and long-term impact of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries in ice hockey than they did 25 years ago, a new study has found.

They're also writing more stories about the need to act against aggression, especially at youth levels, and reporting about concussions suffered by a wide range of players, not just stars.

However, newspapers are still reporting that head injuries "are just part of the game" and that hockey players should accept this occupational risk or not play, the study found.

The study, by Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, examined coverage of sports-related traumatic brain injuries in four major North American newspapers over the last 25 years. Its goal was to examine how the culture around concussions and violence in ice hockey has or has not changed over the last generation.

The papers, The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Toronto Star and the Vancouver Sun, were chosen so that the study included Canadian and U.S. newspapers, east and west coast hockey reports and cities with original six and expansion-era National Hockey League teams.

The study was published today in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Dr. Cusimano said it was important to study newspaper coverage of traumatic brain injuries because such coverage can shape public attitudes and behavior on health issues.

To examine how reporting themes changed over time, they looked specifically at articles published in 1998-2000 and 2009-11. They found the Canadian papers discussed aggression in hockey more in recent reports and over time the role of protective equipment shifted from being protective to being a potential cause of injury. The more recent stories also dealt more often with the severity and personal impact of head injuries and violence.

In comparison, the American newspapers discussed aggression as a contributor to head injuries in hockey less frequently, but discussed perceptions of the risks of brain injury more often.

"Both American and Canadian newspapers have increasingly reported on the need for rule changes and the need to protect ice hockey players from violence related traumatic brain injury," Dr. Cusimano said.

"Developing ways to keep players safer in sports requires that we understand how attitudes and behaviors related to brain injury and violence in that sport are preserved and how they change over time. Since newspapers both report and shape culture in a sport, this research provides insight into the prevention of brain injuries and violence in sports and the roles that media can play in the process."


Contact: Leslie Shepherd
St. Michael's Hospital

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