Back in June, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. He wanted to know why the League had been “dismissive and disappointing” in its reaction to an NFL official linking concussions with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, earlier this year.
Among his questions to Bettman: “Do you believe there is a link between CTE and hockey?” and “Do you dispute that the documented CTE of former NHL players, like Derek Boogaard, is linked to injuries sustained while playing in the NHL?”
On Tuesday, via New York Times reporter John Branch, we have Bettman’s answer: “The relationship between concussions and the asserted clinical symptoms of CTE remains unknown.”
You can read Bettman’s full response to the questions here; but if you’re an NHL fan with an interest in the concussion controversy, you’ve read most of it before. It’s boiler-plate stuff from the NHL’s concussion lawsuit defense, from Bettman’s usual stance on the “nascent” research on CTE to the ways in which the NHL and the NHLPA have tried to prevent and treat concussions.
On CTE, Bettman wrote:
As usual, the big headline will be “BETTMAN DENIES CONCUSSIONS CAUSE CTE,” and as usual his response to that question is a mixed bag.
On the one hand, he sounds Neanderthalic when he denies any connection between those who suffer repeated blows to the head in contact sports and degenerative brain diseases. On the other, Bettman’s correct that the science isn’t quite there when it comes to things like genetic predisposition to CTE, as hundreds of former NHL players haven’t been afflicted with it or with lingering concussion issues. We don’t have a firmed up scientific link that says any and all players are at risk.
(Please note that last bit: “at the NHL level.” One of the arguments in the concussion lawsuit, and it’s a fair one, is that these plaintiffs could have suffered any number of concussions at any point before reaching the NHL.)
One interesting bit from the letter was a excerpt from an NHLPA video that was shown to players during the 2015 preseason, in case you were wondering about what the PA and the NHL are saying about CTE privately:
That last part made up the crux of Bettman’s final thoughts in his response to Blumenthal: media “fear-mongering.”
Look, there’s something really deplorable about denying the connection between CTE and concussions despite being presented with dozens of cases, and then using the Todd Ewan example – one former player, obviously troubled – as indisputable evidence that open discussion of the CTE/concussion link by “the plaintiffs’ lawyers and the media consultants” basically puts blood on their hands.
It’s sad as all hell to wonder if your just-ended professional hockey career is going to lead to depression, dementia and any number of other things. But Bettman’s argument is that educating these players about the possibility their concussion history could lead to these things is “fear-mongering.”
No, the science isn’t there to formally link concussions and CTE absent any other catalysts and factors; but it’s complete head-in-the-sand obtuseness to declare that it’s “media hype” to address the potential link when the NHLPA’s own video to the players state that “some researchers have suggested a relationship exists between head impact in sport and CTE.”
That just speaks to the work the NHL and the NHLPA aren’t doing to help former players transition after retiring, and the work that Dan Carcillo and others are attempting to do.