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Editorial: Give Your Head a Shake

'You don't suddenly shout the game's unfair when you lose'

I’m just about the last person you want to ask about sports, even if we’re talking about sports insurance. I never watch hockey—couldn’t care less about it. I tunnel my way out of tennis, I slip into a deep sleep over curling. Not a sports fan.

It’s not that I cringe over any violence in sports. In fact, I used to punch and kick people. For a decade, I trained in Shotokan karate with one of the most amazing sensei ever, the late Miguel Palavecino, who had the good sense to school us in non-contact kumite (sparring) and kihon (basics).

How good was Miguel? Years ago, when Ontario first thought of allowing mixed martial arts in the province, some regulatory authority had top martial art instructors pound on a motorcycle seat, with meters measuring the speed and impact of their blows. The story goes that one big, beefy guy after another pummeled the target. Then Miguel politely stepped forward, sent a foot in a blurry arc and knocked the seat clean off its pedestal. The data collectors dropped their jaws then murmured, “Um, thank you, Mr. Palavecino… I guess that’ll be all.” MMA wouldn’t be introduced to Ontario that year, though it came later.

I know what direct force can do to a human body. With the right percussive strike, the head can’t “roll with the punch” — it’ll absorb all that energy, with traumatic results. So with the debate over head injuries in pro sports, it’s no surprise there’s long-term neurological impairment from repeated concussions. The NFL didn’t need to come out and say it for it to be true. As John Oliver once noted over opinion polls on global warming: “You don’t need people’s opinion on a fact.”

And there is the rank smell of the weasel over the league ducking the issue for so long, then finally pointing to experts to justify its lowball settlement of a class action lawsuit from former players. There is something really contemptible in the stance of an insurance company that says it doesn’t need to indemnify the league, because the injuries were “expected or intended” by the NFL. I’m not a sports fan, but I do know you don’t suddenly shout the game’s unfair when you lose.

There is always carping over how much top athletes get paid. We now know that these guys risk the onset of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Parkinson’s and other conditions all because they’re willing to get banged up. But the game—not the injuries—is meant to be the entertainment. So I think it’s a loathsome argument to suggest their trauma is intentional, like gladiators mauled by tigers. But then, I know nothing about sports.

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Copyright 2014 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the October 2014 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

Transcontinental Media G.P.