By Al Mattei
Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

When a doctor's name appears in a news story about a particular safety issue, there is an expectation of expertise and freedom from outside influence. This expectation comes to the field hockey safety issue of our time, the attempt to mandate eyewear on the National Federation level.

But an investigation by TopOfTheCircle.com has uncovered a raft of disinformation, conflictual relationships between doctors and eyewear manufacturers, and cloakroom influences on the levers of power.

As a result, the opinions of knowledgable field hockey people have been disregarded, and the field hockey community have had little or no opportunity to provide a fair and balanced representation to those making decisions.

The medical profession has been interested in dissecting facial and eye injuries in the game of field hockey as early as 1984, when the British Medical Journal published a story called "Major Ocular Trauma: A Disturbing Trend in Field Hockey Injuries."

The six-paragraph dispatch takes the stories of three patients with major eye injuries and explains their severity, attempting to link the injuries to "a stick which promotes orbital penetration."

But then, the article references the Canadian "high sticking" rules of the 1970s -- for the game of ice hockey, which has a radically different stick. The stick used in field hockey is much shorter, and is only flat on one side, which makes its use in propelling the ball a lot more controlled when it comes to follow-through.

Furthermore, the article fails to mention improper tackling from the left. All three of these injuries -- two youths and an adult player -- were struck by follow-throughs which could have only occurred on a left-side tackle.

Similar misinformation occurs in an article promoting the use of mouthguards in high-school sports written by the National Institutes of Health in 1996.

In the article, the author talks about the sister of the author of a mouthguard study who plays field hockey. The article, paid for by American tax dollars, says, "Male field hockey players at all levels wear head gear." It is an assertion which is not supported by any data.

When outright lies aren't enough, tactics employed by equipment manufacturers have been more subtle. In the late 1990s, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association mandated eyewear because of a threatened lawsuit as well also have included the mere threat of a class-action lawsuit. The evidence would have been provided by Lexington, Mass. opthamologist Paul Vinger, who has succeeded in all manner of mandates when it comes to putting often cumbersome equipment on players.

In one of his monographs, Vinger accuses the American field hockey community of providing "no adequate expanation of why the ball must be so very hard, why helmets and face guards are not permitted to players other than the goalie, and why at least eye protection is not mandated."

No citation on the definition of "adequacy" is offered, nor is any explanation regarding bumpy grass fields of improper tackling offered.

Vinger's inflience is an outgrowth of a 1996 policy statement by the American Academy of Opthamology called "Protective Eyewear for Young Athletes," which advocated the use of goggles in every sport from wrestling to basketball.

No hard data (i.e., proof), however, was ever published with the statement. All of the sports in the advisory list was "chosen on the basis of their popularity."

Doctor influence has gotten to the point where the State of New Jersey enacted a law in January 2006 whereby any student-athlete who wears glasses must wear protective eyewear over them.

According to The Star-Ledger of Newark, the prime lobbyist for the law was optometrist Paul Berman, who just happens to be the director of education for Liberty Sport of Fairfield, a national distributor of the Rec Specs brand of protective eyewear.

It is fortunate, however, that the law has no enforcement mechanism, either civil or criminal.

"The decision was made that we don't want to have the eyeglass police," Berman explained to The Star-Ledger of Newark. "We felt just making this the law would enable people to realize how important this is."

But with doctors able to craft statistically shaky legislation for personal profit, stronger laws are undoubtedly in the offing.

NOTE: The Right To Right Is Right program is designed to help players, coaches, and administrators in maintaining a safe and injury-free environment for all field hockey participants. However, participants in any sport should be aware of the inherent risk of injury.