By Marc Lagace
The debate over concussions and head injuries has entered a somewhat unusual sporting realm: the world of curling.
On Oct. 31, Newfoundland skip Brad Gushue was involved in a scary incident at the Grand Slam of Curling Masters event. Stepping back to watch a teammates shot in the fourth end, he slipped and fell flat on his face, unable to even put his hands out in time to break his fall. The spill resulted in a nasty gash above his right eye and required a visit to a nearby hospital. After getting stitched up, Gushue was able to return to finish the game in the seventh end.
Now, by all accounts, this was a particularly freak accident that just happened to occur to one of the world’s top curlers during a televised broadcast. It’s not the first time head injuries and curling have been in the news, but it invariably sparked the question whether curlers and curling’s governing body needs to do more to address the potential for head injuries, and even some going as far as potentially mandating helmets.
I’m of the opinion that, of course, with any sport that takes place on a frozen surface, there’s a heightened risk for injuries. And I don’t see the harm in youth or senior curlers donning headgear, as both skill level and age would factor into the risk factor here.
But for competitive or even casual adult leagues, the idea of mandating helmets is preposterous. In doing research for this column, I did see that there’s an entrepreneur making curling-fashionable headwear with built in protection. That’s a fair compromise, but I’d still pass. Because curling has always been a social sport, like golf, and you wouldn’t wear a helmet playing golf because there’s a chance you might get hit in the head by a club or ball.
First off, it’s not a high-impact sport like hockey, where watching archival footage of helmet-less players makes you cringe. Instead, you can watch Orest Meleschuk make shots with a cigarette hanging off his lip as his rink won the 1972 world championship final. It’s in a different category of competition, is all I’m trying to saying.
When I played as a kid, half the fun would be kick sliding down the rink. These days, the growing popular method for sweepers is to wear two grippers and walk down the rink. This is undoubtedly a smarter method, and makes the game safer. The only time when you really need to slide is when you’re making a shot, so it makes sense to remove the risk wherever else.
Gushue’s injury resulted in concussion-like symptoms that put him out of commission for a week as a precautionary measure. He’s since told the media that he suspects the fall was caused by frost buildup on his gripper. That tells me the lesson here isn’t that headgear should be mandatory to keep curlers safe, but instead, check your grippers and footwear regularly throughout the game to make sure you’re safe. There’s plenty of downtime to do so, so no excuses.
In summation, you’re probably more likely to slip and fall on an icy sidewalk than during a match, so to all the curlers play safe and have fun.