Concussion issue has been a long standing discussion in the NFL, but its more recent in NHL. Though not quite as physically aggressive as football, hockey is none the less a full-contact sport, where players frequently take vicious hits, and are prone to concussion. Today, as leagues are very cautious and are taking steps towards players safety, it is the past players who feel let down.
The current class-action lawsuit brought about by 105 former NHL players claims that the league had knowingly failed to sufficiently warn and protect its players about effects of concussion, and continued to promote violent plays. The league completely denies the claims, with the current NHL president Gary Bettman terming the lawsuit as “without merit”.
There are not much financial details disclosed about the lawsuit, but it is expected to be similar to the $1 billion NFL settlement. The ex-players involved in the suit say it is more about protecting the future of the game than about financial settlement. Their primary demand is for a lifetime medical monitoring for all the approximately 4800 former NHL players.
The 133-page complaint filed in the federal court in Minneapolis, Minnesota, contains detailed descriptions about several players current conditions and medical records that link their situation to the repeated concussions they endured during their playing days.
57 year old Steve Payne, who played in the NHL for 10 years, says that, medical examinations show his brain resembles that of someone who is a decade older, and it is a clear result of the repeated concussions during his playing days. Dan LaCouture, another ex-player, who suffers from various neurodegenerative symptoms, had about 20 concussions during his 11-year sting in the league. The lawsuit against NHL for the death of Steve Montador due to chronic traumatic encephelopathy (CTE), has also been recently consolidated with the class-action suit.
It is going to be an uphill battle for the players to prove their case that the NHL had information about long term players safety and deliberately ignored it. Unlike the NFL lawsuit, the NHL is not even open for any negotiations for a settlement, and are instead looking for the case to be dismissed.
From the couple million documents that were submitted for the case, the NHL is very confident about its position, which was evident from an internal memo, in which, the league prides itself in the leadership role it takes in study diagnosis and prevention of concussions, and mentions the lack of any evidence that support the plaintiff’s claims.
The league however is not finding it easy to be done with it as soon as it would like. An earlier motion to dismiss the case was denied, and there is another hearing scheduled in March in which the NHL will argue that based on collective bargaining agreement, the responsibility for players safety should fall under the purview of players association.
In the mean time, an email sent by Julie Grand was uncovered, where she was dismissive about exploring long-term brain injuries due to concussion among ex-players. Though it’s not legally damaging, it leaves the league in a bad light in current state of things.
If the case does not reach a settlement and goes to trial, it will be a long fought battle and a resolution will not be reached until the later part of 2017.