By Josh Teitz
Since the beginning of July all skaters at the Olympic Oval have been required to wear helmets. According to the Oval’s webpage, the new helmet policy was introduced as a “proactive safety measure … to ensure all users of the Olympic Oval enjoy their time skating.”
Although mandating helmets may benefit a handful of skaters — notably those unfortunate enough to fall in such a way that their heads strike the ice — the majority of skaters will find that donning a helmet detracts from the skating experience.
By mandating helmets the Oval is catering to a small group of skaters who, despite being fully aware of their inability to skate, choose to forego helmets. Presumably, the head injuries sustained by a few of these imprudent folks are why everyone now has to don a helmet. Some safety-first types probably think the Oval made the right decision. We are often cautioned that even the most experienced skaters can fall and knock themselves out. Possible but unlikely.
The majority of skaters just want to casually loop around the Oval, often with company. Skating in this manner is no more dangerous than bike riding, running or hiking, none of which require a helmet if you are over 18 years old. Besides, anyone skating in a dangerous fashion is quickly accosted by a member of the ice patrol.
Not everyone owns a helmet. Although the Oval rents helmets out for free, they do so on a first-come-first-serve basis, which means rentals aren’t always available. Secondly, nobody wants to strap on a rental helmet that’s been on a random stranger’s head, soaking up sweat, dead skin and possibly lice. Last, but certainly not least, many helmets are antithetical to cool. Nobody wants to look stupid skating around the Oval with their friends.
The Olympic Oval has been open for public skating since 1987 — a good 25 years before their decision to mandate helmets. The Oval has quite possibly waited until now to establish this rule because of the recent controversies regarding head injuries in professional sports, particularly in NHL hockey and NFL football.
Over the summer of 2013 the NFL agreed to pay $765 million in compensation to thousands of NFL players still dealing with the lingering effects of concussions they sustained while playing. Claimants report to be suffering from Alzheimer’s, depression and dementia, along with other neurological disorders.
Former NHLers are currently in the process of filing a concussion lawsuit against the NHL. No one is denying that head injuries need to be taken seriously.
However, the symptoms these former athletes describe are not the result of merely having their bells rung once or twice. Because of the pressure and intensity of pro sports, along with misconceptions about the nature of concussions, concussed athletes have often been encouraged to re-enter games despite feeling unwell. This ingrained mentality explains the chronic effects head injuries continue to have on many former athletes.
Skating at the Oval today is very different from playing football or hockey 20 years ago. Even if a skater falls and hits their head, a member of the ice patrol will quickly be on the scene. Olympic Oval ice patrol employees are not going to pressure the fallen skater to get up and hustle; they will recommend the fallen skater curtail their time at the Oval and see a physician. In all likelihood everything will be perfectly fine.