In a deposition given in 2015, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs denied knowing or ever hearing about CTE. Jacobs was asked if he knew that CTE was diagnosed posthumously in brains of former hockey players. His answer: “I don’t think so, I don’t know.” CTE was discovered in former players Rick Martin, Reggie Fleming, Bob Probert and Steven Montador at the time of his deposition.
Years prior to the Jacobs interview, the NFL settled a $765 million concussion lawsuit, with CTE being thrust into the limelight. In testimonies obtained by TSN.ca owners, like Jacobs, claim ignorance about CTE, yet are against stopping head hits which can lead to concussions. The NHL has spent over $50 million in legal fees, therefore, it would be unlikely that the owners weren’t at least briefed on what CTE is.
In 2010 the NFL created a poster warning of the repercussions of repeated head trauma and concussions. The warning also states that injuries to the brain can lead to the early onset of dementia. The NHL’s poster does not include the word “dementia.” A medical consultant for the NHL, Dr. John Rizos, had to “water down” the poster. He testified that his original wording caused some problems within the league. So who exactly had issues? None other than NHL lawyer (and ironically a member of the NHL/NHLPA Concussion Working Group) Julie Grand. In an email to Dr. Rizos, Grand was concerned that any statement including the word “dementia” may sound “too alarmist.” The Leagues Doctors Ruben Echemendia and Willem Meeuwisse were in agreement with Grand.
According to Meeuwisse, the word “dementia” was dropped to make the poster easier to comprehend. His reasoning on the change? A language barrier. As Dr. Meeuwisse stated:
A part of the problem that we face in the NHL that the NFL does not face is a language issue, where half of our players speak a language other than English.”
Dr. Conidi, a former team neurologist for the Florida Panthers, believes that the notion of language being a barrier is an insult to the players:
“The editing of the poster is insulting. The thing that comes to my mind is: That’s the best you can think of? I think I would have said, ‘I don’t know’ before I said, ‘My players don’t speak English.’ These players get to and from NHL rinks okay and read English street signs and live in North America. There are a number of very intelligent hockey players and I think many would be offended that these guys are basically saying the players aren’t smart enough to read the poster.”
Grand wrote an email to Commissioner Bettman in regards to the direction that the Concussion Working Group should take. She mentioned that the league should conduct a study “on the long-term neurocognitive and psychological effects of repeated concussions among retired NHL players.” A nice thought, however, she didn’t think it would be worth doing. Grand continued:
“I’d rather focus on the here and now and leave the dementia issues up to the NFL.””I think it is important that we continue to move in more than one direction with the work of the (Concussion Working Group) and appear to both the players/clubs and the public that we are actively engaged in the issue”
Grand concluded the email asking Bettman for his thoughts. His reaction? “Good job. Thanks. You should give it to PR-good job.”
DIRTY HIT ON SAVVY
Fans of the Boston Bruins know about the Matt Cooke hit. They also know Marc Savard’s journey and speaking about his life after suffering that career ending hit. In a poignant piece written for the Players Tribune Savard wrote about the “dark times” he has faced and calls for more mental health resources for players.
An email between Mike Milbury (former Bruins player turned television analyst) and Colin Campbell (NHL Senior Executive Vice-President of Hockey Operations) Milbury asked Campbell what the league will do to Cooke. Campbell’s reply: “Let’s face it Mike…we sell rivalries, we sell and promote hate.”
Cooke never received discipline for the Savard hit and he also has never apologized. Then Bruins GM Chiarelli said:
“The last few days I’ve been lobbying the Hockey Ops staff with respect to the Cooke hit on Savard. The issue here is that they felt there was no infraction. He didn’t leave his feet, he didn’t charge, he didn’t use an elbow. They ruled it was a shoulder hit to the head.”
Campbell came out with a neatly written statement at the time:
“I know it’s not something that Boston fans, or hockey fans would like to hear. They want justice. We feel we have to be consistent and do what we feel is right and hopefully we’ve gone to a place in our meetings today that we can eradicate plays like this in the future.”
Facing huge backlash and class action lawsuits, the NFL agreed to pay out $1 billion dollars to retired players. The NHL has done the opposite. Former litigator turned Commissioner Gary Bettman has fought to have cases dismissed. He also continues to question the evidence linking brain trauma and hits to the head. With the case now denied as a class action suit, players may have to sue individually.
Bettman and company will continue to fight hardball without any embarrassment or shame, no matter how harmful it is. The NFL has dealt with much negative press involving concussions, however, the NHL has yet to experience such blowback. Attendance is growing steadily, television ratings have not suffered. Will the league ever take responsibility and warn its players about the dangers of concussions?
Follow Liz Rizzo on Twitter @pastagrl88