For quite a few years now, the head injury has been a hot topic in sports, especially in football and hockey, where contact is encouraged and necessary.
No recap or grouping of quotes will adequately summarize the struggles Pronger detailed today, and I'd highly recommend that you watch all three parts of his near 40-minute press conference (after the jump). But in a nutshell, the lingering effects of a stick to the eye and a concussion are as follows:
Pronger doesn't see well. His direct vision went from that of a 30-year-old to that of a 60-year-old. He keeps upping the prescription strength of his glasses, which he now wears. It's unfortunate, and though it's not a reversible problem, it's a symptom that can be managed and is the least of his worries, he explained.
Peripheral vision presents a greater challenge.
Pronger has trouble seeing to his left and right. A sixth sense, as he described it, that was always available to him – heightened, even – is no longer there. He isn't as aware of his surroundings as he used to be… can't feel his kids coming around corners… couldn't detect an oncoming hit from an opposing player if he had to. At least one of his eyes has trouble going out, to see off to the side. This might get better over time, or it might not.
He gets headaches. Lots of them. Sometimes from trying to use his peripheral vision, sometimes from focusing, and sometimes from lights and noises and kids and, you know, living.
Though not as frequent and persistent as it once was, Pronger still suffers when he's around commotion. His brain, it would seem, struggles to process multiple inputs. Sort of like an old computer– sure, the browser works just fine, but try loading up Word, iTunes and Photoshop, then see what happens. That's Pronger. He needs more JAM RAM. Even focusing on a hockey game, on TV, bothers him after a while. He falls asleep earlier than he used to. He can't run– it gives him headaches. He can workout a bit – lift and ride the stationary bike – but when his heart rate gets too high, he gets headaches. He said he can't do anything that requires him to "move fast."
He can drive (when he wears his glasses), it's something he's been doing a lot of. He picks his kids up from school, takes them to hockey practice and other places, and then goes back home, just like my mom did for me before I got my license.
That's an improvement from where Pronger was six months ago, though.
He would spend days in the house, doing little to nothing. After fulfilling obligations (presumably appearances or business related meetings), he would pay for them with headaches and dizziness, and would be forced to sit in the dark for a few days doing his best to ignore his children, or at least staying away from them when they became, you know, kids. He said he snapped at them a few times, but has learned to better manage that reflex. Usually. He still "gets a grrrrr on" every once in a while.
Pronger has gotten on the ice a few times at his kids' hockey practices, but did nothing more than "push the puck around," as he described it. Somehow, that's not as cool as stealing a Stanley Cup game-winning puck from the Chicago Blackhawks.
A reporter asked Pronger if he ever thought about ending it – his life – and though Pronger chuckled at the question and said he didn't think it ever got that bad, he didn't laugh it off the way you might have expected an otherwise normal 38-year-old to do. Old Pronger would have have ignored the question, or, much more likely, walked out of the interview. This Pronger just said that doctors were pretty worried about him and that he had been depressed for a time. He probably still is.
Those same doctors aren't sure if he'll ever get better. From the sounds of it, he'll improve, some, but will never be 100% again, and almost certainly won't play hockey. He won't admit that, and there's probably a couple reasons why: it's hard for any athlete to hang 'em up early, and doing so – retiring – would cost Pronger the roughly $12 million he's owed over the final four years of his deal. Or at least a portion of it (insurance would probably pay him a substantial chunk of that). The Flyers don't mind, either. As long as Pronger is on long-term injured reserve, they won't take a cap hit. If he retires, however, they will lose cap space, around $5 million per season. Plus they almost certainly have insurance that is covering Pronger's contract right now. So there's a decent chance that Pronger isn't retiring as a courtesy to the Flyers. And that's probably a good thing because, um, have you seen the defense?
Pronger has seen a little bit of it. He watches games when he can and provides the team with feedback, but he admitted that he isn't fully engaged (the former captain "checks the scores"). He'll be at the Penguins game tonight and thinks he can sit through the whole thing, something he couldn't do last time he was in town. But only if he feels like it.
Videos of his press conference after the jump.