Response to Concussion Lawsuit Shows NHL Still in Denial

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Only three months after the NFL reached a landmark $765 million settlement with thousands of ex-players who sued the league over concussion-related brain injuries, 10 former NHL players have filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that the league is not only failing to protect players from head injuries, but is in fact promoting the types of fighting and hard bodychecking that contribute to concussions.

There are two similarities between how the NFL and NHL has reacted to the concussion crisis — denial and greed.

The commissioners and owners know that violence sells and while they for years have talked about putting player safety first, they haven’t taken a single measure that would significantly reduce head injuries. This is because they fear it would alter the game so much that fans wouldn’t fork over their hard-earned money to watch what they would consider a watered-down version of hockey or football.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly‘s response to the lawsuit is telling: “While the subject matter is very serious, we are completely satisfied with the responsible manner in which the league and the players’ association have managed player safety over time, including with respect to head injuries and concussions.”

Completely satisfied Mr. Daly? Really? Is that supposed to make NHL players feel better when they hit the ice every night and risk a serious head injury? A look at the latest NHL hockey injury report finds that at least 11 players are out of the lineup with head injures, and 10 of those are listed as concussions. That’s 10 concussions right now Mr. Daly. And you are “completely satisfied”?

Concussed Anaheim Ducks center Saku Koivu says “he still sometimes feels dizzy while skating.” Boston Bruins center Marc Savard is knocked out for the season because of his concussion. Carolina Hurricanes fans are being denied the chance to see one of the league’s most dynamic players right now as right wing Alex Semin is out with a concussion. Veteran Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk took an elbow to the head and suffered a concussion that has him sidelined.

And remember Chris Pronger? Exactly. Post-concussion syndrome ended his career.

But everything is fine at NHL offices in New York and Toronto because arenas are packed and TV ratings are through the roof. Meanwhile, the league will continue talking about player safety and the concussions will continue. The same goes for the NFL, and to a lesser extent professional soccer leagues — all of whom are in serious denial regarding head injuries.

The 10 ex-players filing the suit against the NHL are: Rick Vaive, Brad Aitken, Darren Banks, Curt Bennett, Richie Dunn, Warren Holmes, Gary Leeman, Bob Manno, Blair Stewart and Morris Titanic.

In a statement, Vaive said players “were kept in the dark about the risks of concussions and many of the former NHL players are now suffering from debilitating head injuries from their time in the league. Hopefully this lawsuit will shine a light on the problem and the players will get the help they deserve.”

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