NHL Commissioner Bettman Argues There’s No Evidence Supporting Link Between Hockey and Brain Trauma

On July 25, 2016, a letter by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was filed in the multi-district litigation over concussions in hockey dismissing the link between hockey related head injuries and long-term brain conditions. In this letter, he reiterated a similar infamous stance previously made by the NFL that there is no definitive connection between the two and their league has done everything in their power to keep its players safe.

Recently, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), a ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Product Safety, wrote a letter in June of 2016 pressing the NHL about what they are doing and have done about concussions. Specifically, he took offense to Bettman’s comments that hockey is not the same as football when it comes to brain injuries. The Senator’s letter sparked both public and political outcry for the league to once and for all take a stance on concussions as they are in the midst of multi-district litigation against former players. In the background is similar pending litigation against the NFL who recently qualified statements that a study at Boston University may have proven a link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) later in life.

In his fiery letter, dated July 22, to the District Judge and Blumenthal he disputed the link between hockey and brain injuries and chastised Blumenthal and the plaintiffs for using the court of public opinion instead of the more appropriate legal court. Particularly, Bettman states the link between brain injuries and hockey is unclear and there is no brain pathology research that demonstrates a causal link between CTE and the repeated concussive impacts on hockey players. Bettman indicated that the NHL is following this medical consensus and the league is on the right track with player safety. Further, he made a subtle dig on the media who he claims to be dangerously associating CTE and sports head injuries despite the lack of studies connecting the two. Finally, Bettman scolded Blumenthal for instilling “unwarranted fears that could result in potentially tragic consequences” through the press and for helping the plaintiff’s lawyers and their media to publicize baseless accusations and move ahead of the medical community without scientific support. Ultimately, Bettman implored a more measured approach in the court of law.

Going against Bettman is the ever increasing scientific evidence that, while not definitive, alludes to a causal link between contact and collision sports and CTE and the batch of emails that are evidence in the multi-district litigation where Bettman admits concussions can cause depression and other mental problems, especially by those players who are prone to fighting. The NFL is starting to become more transparent and open to the connection of the sport and brain injuries like CTE, it’s a wonder on whether the NHL will do the same.

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