SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Kasey Hayes had mentioned to his wife, Leah, last week that maybe he should switch from riding with a helmet to just a cowboy hat so that he could tuck his chin more.
Fortunately, Kasey decided against that this weekend during the First PREMIER Bank PREMIER Bankcard Invitational and that choice paid huge dividends for the Liberal, Kansas, bull rider.
Hayes was stomped on the back of his head by Shaft during Round 1 on Friday night, causing his black hockey helmet to shatter, when he was bucked off at the 3.72-second mark.
No one knows for sure what may have happened if he were not wearing a helmet, but Hayes was lucky enough to walk away with a concussion and contusions/abrasions of his face and neck.
The 29-year-old sat out the final day of competition at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.
“I am sore,” Hayes said after spending time in sports medicine icing his injuries Saturday afternoon. “I am just glad I had my helmet on. It took the brunt of that impact. Fortunately, I ride with one. It could have been worse, but we will never know how worse.”
Hayes was knocked out cold by the force of the wreck and was left helpless in the arena before Jesse Byrne, Shorty Gorham and Frank Newsom stepped in to keep Shaft away from the down bull rider.
Gorham breaks down the wreck as part of Sunday’s night’s CBS Sports Network broadcast, which airs at 10 p.m. ET.
“I am not sure if I would wear (a helmet) if I was a bull rider – I am a little old school – but not being a doctor, I honestly believe I have seen quite a few lives saved because of them. So why wouldn’t you wear one?”
Hayes, who is 22nd in the world standings, was able to walk out of the arena with the assistance of PBR sports medicine. Veteran athletic trainer Rich Blyn said that Hayes’ helmet served its purpose.
“In that situation, you can definitely say he is better off for having one on,” Blyn said. “You look at where the helmet was broken and you think, ‘Well, what if there wasn’t one?’ Then you are looking at the back of his head. I won’t go as far to say it saved his life, but it certainly minimized the injury to what it was.”
The PBR instituted a rule in 2013 that all riders born on or after October 15, 1994, have to wear a helmet at PBR-sanctioned events. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before all riders competing in the PBR will be riding with helmets.
Blyn coaches high school hockey in Massachusetts and compared the transition to a similar one that happened when the NHL began mandating helmets for incoming players in 1979. Craig MacTavish of the St. Louis Blues was the last player to compete in an NHL game without a helmet in 1997.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt to wear one,” Blyn said. “The more safety you put on these guys the better. When the vests first came out, a lot of guys kind of baulked at that a little bit and now I don’t think there is a bull rider out there that wouldn’t ever consider getting on (a bull) without one. I think helmets are getting there too. We are seeing more and more guys start to wear them.”
Hayes began wearing a facemask at 12 years old after he fractured his skull, and he then transitioned to a helmet on the Built Ford Tough Series in 2010 after seeing J.B. Mauney have a helmet smashed to bits.
“His helmet was just in pieces, but he only had a scratch on him,” Hayes said. “I was like, ‘Dang, maybe I should get a helmet.’”
Hayes said it is why he wasn’t surprised to learn that his helmet was busted.
“It is bull riding and that stuff can and will happen,” he said. “I have seen that happen before, it is always kind of surreal whenever it is your helmet that it happens to. It is just one of those deals that can happen – chance, fate or whatever.”
Hayes explained that part of the reason he didn’t push to try and return on Saturday night and attempt the PBR sports medicine concussion test was because he rushed back from a concussion during last summer.
The 10-year BFTS veteran had sustained one at a Touring Pro Division event in July before coming back later that week to win the BlueDEF Velocity Tour event in Carson, California. However, a vicious wreck during the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo a few days later in Colorado Springs, Colorado, had him transported to a local hospital for further evaluation for another concussion.
“It was probably one of the worst knockouts I ever had,” Hayes said. “I didn’t get up and walk out of the arena and they hauled me out on a stretcher. Usually, I get up and walk out and I am fine like I did here.”
Still, just like he was in Sioux Falls, Hayes was happy he had been wearing a helmet.
“I have always thought they were safer,” he said. “It has to be safer to have a helmet on than to not have one if you get hit. If you get hit, it is definitely going to save you somewhere.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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