Commissioner Bettman Questions Link Between Hockey And Concussion Issues

NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman (Picture by way of thecomeback.com)

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote a letter to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in search of clarification relating to the league’s dismissive angle in the direction of the hyperlink between hockey and the lengthy-time period results and issues brought on by head accidents––particularly persistent traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE “is a progressive degenerative illness of the mind present in athletes (and others) with a historical past of repetitive mind trauma, together with symptomatic concussions in addition to asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the top.”

Blumenthal mentioned the NFL’s acknowledgement of the hyperlink between enjoying soccer and affected by lengthy-time period problems, together with CTE. Though the NFL admitted the connection between enjoying a contact sport that regularly causes concussions, or includes a participant affected by sub-concussive hits, and mind injury, the NHL has disregarded the info which clearly exhibits a correlation.

Bettman has distanced hockey from soccer by saying “I feel it’s pretty clear that enjoying hockey isn’t the identical as soccer.” Blumenthal famous Bettman’s assertion, however careworn that there are dangers related to enjoying hockey––as evidenced by the deaths of six former NHL gamers who have been discovered to have CTE posthumously (Reg Fleming, Rick Martin, Bob Probert, Derek Boogaard, and Steve Montador).

Concluding the letter, Blumenthal included a lot of questions on mind accidents and hockey; Blumenthal feels the NHL is obligated to be productive about making certain the security of hockey in any respect ranges, “because the premier skilled hockey league on the planet.”

Commissioner Bettman responded to Senator Blumenthal in a twenty-4 web page letter denying the hyperlink between hockey and CTE. In his response, Bettman wrote “The science relating to C.T.E., together with on the asserted ‘hyperlink’ to concussions that you simply reference, stays nascent, notably with respect to what causes C.T.E. and whether or not it may be recognized by particular medical signs.” Bettman additional asserted “the connection between concussions and the asserted medical signs of C.T.E. stays unknown.”

Bettman declined to acknowledge the hyperlink between hockey and CTE all through this letter and deflected a lot of the blame to the media by accusing the media of making a tradition of worry surrounding the lengthy-time period results of mind accidents from enjoying hockey. Bettman even shifted the blame to the plaintiffs of the category motion lawsuit towards the NHL—based mostly on the NHL not informing gamers of the lengthy-time period results of head accidents that would outcome from enjoying hockey—for condemning the league so publicly. Though Bettman definitely couldn’t state something that may hurt the NHL’s case in that lawsuit, his focus was relieving the NHL of any obligations Blumenthal believes the league ought to have.

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In accusing the media of hypothesis and “worry mongering” slightly than having scientific proof, Bettman referred to Todd Ewen’s dying. Ewen died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on September 19, 2015. The idea was that Ewen would present indicators of CTE when his mind was examined submit-mortem, however it didn’t.

Bettman attributed the assumption that Ewen can be recognized with CTE to the media: “This, sadly, is exactly the kind of tragedy that may end result when plaintiffs’ legal professionals and their media consultants bounce forward of the medical group and assert, with out dependable scientific help, that there’s a causal hyperlink between concussions and C.T.E. Definitely, a extra measured strategy in keeping with the medical group consensus can be a safer, extra prudent course.”

After Ewen’s suicide, however previous to the examination of his mind, the media speculated whether or not or not he had CTE­­––even going so far as speculating whether or not or not his NHL profession contributed to his dying. He was the seventh former enforcer to have died after displaying signs which were linked to CTE in a 5-yr span. Though the precise causes for his or her deaths differed, all suffered many blows to the top throughout their NHL careers.

The donation of Ewen’s mind to neurosurgeon Charles Tator and the Canadian Sports activities Concussion Venture was introduced publicly (on September 27, 2015) as properly, fueling the hypothesis that Ewen might have been affected by the neurodegenerative dysfunction. The announcement that Ewen didn’t have CTE was made public in February 2016.

Derek Boogaard died in 2011 of a drug overdose. Later in 2011, it was introduced that Boogaard’s mind confirmed proof of CTE. Boogaard was solely 28 and already exhibited traces of CTE. His dying was in such shut proximity to 2 different former NHLers––Wade Belak and Rick Rypien—so the media protection was amplified. Moreover, the New York Occasions ran a three-half story on Boogaard, which later become a guide retracing his life and demise; if Boogaard’s dying didn’t obtain sufficient media consideration when it occurred, it definitely did as soon as it reemerged in 2014 when “Boy On Ice: The Life and Demise of Derek Boogaard” was revealed.

Every occasion of an NHL participant dying who was suspected of affected by CTE has been within the media. The very fact of the matter is that NHL gamers are public figures. The NHL expects gamers to talk to the media after video games to offer insights into the sport and their play. Is the NHL to anticipate these public figures to abruptly not converse to the media and never update their postgame lives? With social media, former gamers can inform followers of their ideas and plans with out ever chatting with the media. And if a former participant does converse to a media outlet, particularly about concussions, that shall be re-revealed throughout social media.

Fairly than wanting on the media consideration as worry mongering, the league ought to view this as well being consciousness. Mind banks need athletes to know their amenities can be found to look at their brains for analysis that would profit future athletes. Gamers publicly saying their intentions of donating their brains might encourage different gamers to do the identical, in addition to additional make gamers conscious of those assets. And gamers discussing these points ought to be within the media as a result of it makes present and future gamers extra conscious of the dangers of concussions and normalizes the notice so gamers don’t really feel strain to cover these accidents in such a troublesome sport.  

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Wanting on the class motion lawsuit towards the NHL, it does seem that the plaintiffs have tried to drive consciousness for different former gamers of a possible destiny they might face. Bettman states that the plaintiffs have used techniques that litigate the case via the media. But this technique not solely might make different former gamers be a part of the lawsuit, however probably encourage present gamers to both change their fashion of play, retire on account of worry of concussions, or to place extra strain on the NHL to vary the sport and assist gamers cope with the lengthy-time period implications of head accidents.

The category motion lawsuit additionally resulted within the unsealing of emails between NHL officers, lots of which handled concussions. An e mail from Brendan Shanahan, who on the time was Vice President of the Participant Security and Hockey Operations, to Commissioner Bettman learn: “No matter what the precise causes are that drove Wade to this, I feel it merely goes again to concussions and mind accidents. This particular position can also be turning into extra specialised and extra pressurized…Some former enforcers have reached out to me and provided their help to us. They’re all scared.” Shanahan was referring to Wade Belak, a former NHL enforcer who dedicated suicide and displayed signs of CTE. There was appreciable media consideration on this specific e-mail because it exhibits league consciousness of the assumption amongst former gamers, together with Shanahan, that his demise was linked to the top accidents sustained whereas enjoying within the NHL.

Image via The Globe and Mail
Picture by way of The Globe and Mail

Commissioner Bettman took the chance on this letter to say the progress the NHL has made on concussion administration. Apparently sufficient, Bettman says the media must comply with science somewhat than worry, but the NHL itself doesn’t absolutely comply with the science. The NHL, NHLPA, and Canadian Medical Affiliation Journal carried out a research between 1997 and 2004 on concussions. As famous by Bettman, a neuropsychological check was mandated by the NHL after this research. Sadly, it took seven years after the research was carried out to truly implement modifications. And finally, the research concluded that further analysis was mandatory—fourteen years after the beginning of the research.

The unsealing of the emails additionally revealed that the research didn’t have nice management. In 2007, Julie Grand, counsel to the NHL, emailed Bettman about that research saying that “the ‘research’ has been dragging a bit for years. There has not been nice management on it.” Had this been extra of a precedence for the NHL, the research might have been far more organized and efficient.

Later within the e mail, Grand notes the significance of accuracy to keep away from points that the NFL has confronted. In response to Grand, the NHL ought to “keep away from a few of the public critiques the NFL has been the goal of.” Based mostly on all obtainable proof, it seems that the NHL didn’t comply with that thought because the NFL has acknowledged the hyperlink between mind injury and enjoying a contact sport like soccer, whereas the NHL continues to disclaim the hyperlink and as an alternative focuses its efforts on differentiating hockey from soccer.

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Bettman additionally cites the NHL’s concussion protocol as proof of its management in concussion administration. The NHL was the primary skilled league to implement baseline testing. However Bettman omits the elemental flaws within the concussion protocol, as a result of not all signs are acknowledged instantly within the preliminary check. For instance, Gabriel Landeskog didn’t present concussion signs after successful by Brad Stuart in 2013, and he returned to play. After the sport, his signs appeared and the concussion was extreme sufficient for him to overlook the subsequent eleven video games. Gamers have additionally bypassed the protocol as a result of they might slightly play than miss twenty minutes of the sport for testing. It’s clear that there’s room for enchancment based mostly on science for the NHL’s concussion insurance policies.

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It’s extremely possible that gamers suffered from CTE previous to its emergence within the media. Then once more, the media has by no means been stronger and extra prevalent than it’s today. The NHL tries to seem as clear as attainable, selling groups’ use of the media to attach followers to the game, but they shun the media when the main target is on something adverse concerning the league, moderately than being proactive about addressing the difficulty or altering the narrative.

Bettman selected to publicly reply to Blumenthal, however the letter was framed to be revealed as a approach to fight the plaintiffs within the class motion lawsuit who’re taking to the media to deal with their points.

The media places a microscope on all the things the NHL does. Sadly for Commissioner Bettman, his dismissal of the hyperlink between CTE and hockey has undoubtedly been heard. If Bettman was so involved about misinformation within the media, he can be open to additional exploring the hyperlink between hockey and CTE. Clearly the commissioner is in a difficult state of affairs in coping with the lawsuit, as a result of any missteps might value the NHL, however at a sure level the NHL must be making an attempt to assist their largest belongings: the gamers.

Commissioner Bettman and the NHL might simply direct the narrative of CTE in hockey, just like the NFL is trying to do for soccer. A lot of the NFL’s progress seems to be extra concerning the optics than the precise analysis although, and sadly for the NFL that has been acknowledged. However by no less than acknowledging the hyperlink, the NFL has been relieved of some strain. Then once more, the NFL did wait till the concussion class motion lawsuit towards them was settled to acknowledge the hyperlink between lengthy-time period results of head accidents and soccer. Nevertheless, the NHL’s coping with the concussions differs from the NFL. The NFL was embroiled in rather more controversy than the NHL ever was.

As an alternative of difficult the analysis that has already been carried out, the NHL ought to spend money on the analysis and use their assets to assist their very own gamers. The NHL could possibly be clear with the media to make sure that there’s completely no misinformation and substitute hypothesis with scientific information. Till the NHL does that, the media will probably proceed to take a position and concentrate on their dismissive and regressive place. If the NHL contributed to the science and truly tried to progress it moderately than involving themselves to decrease and undermine the analysis already achieved, there wouldn’t be worry however slightly a sense of hope in the direction of discovering a approach to assist and probably save gamers from the identical destiny as Derek Boogard, Bob Probert, and the variety of different athletes who unknowingly suffered from CTE.

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