If there was a punchline moment in Gary Bettman’s Hall of Fame induction speech Monday night in Toronto, it was that sharp and self-satisfying response to the proposed notion that his enshrinement would soon mean the end of his tenure as NHL commissioner.
But despite reaching a modest and timely court settlement agreement on the morning of his induction, Bettman’s term won’t continue in the absence of his long-standing struggle with the aggrieved group of 300-plus players that either helped launch or later joined the concussion lawsuit first brought against the league almost five years ago.
Because while each involved could opt to be $22,000 richer as per the terms of the settlement, they aren’t ready to forget squat.
“This is not the end game,” NHL Alumni Association executive director Glenn Healy said on the red carpet at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “We’re not done here. The alumni is going to dig in with this.”
He added: “It’s a step in the right direction today to try and get some help and hope back for players.”
In many ways, public perception assumed the opposite for the players struggling in retirement and desperate for help.
After investing all that time, money and effort into fighting for the benefits and resources that could help to restore livelihoods damaged by the harmful effects of repeated head trauma and apparent negligence on the part of the NHL, what would $22,000 realistically mean for these players and their families?
“I don’t play the blame game. I don’t analyze it in any way,” said Healy of the agreement worth $18.9 million total. “That’s what the settlement is, but for me this is not the finish line. This is the start line and it’s up to me to make things better.
“We need to find a way to get players functionally integrated back into their world, and their world functionally integrated back to them, so we don’t have a situation where a player is walking wounded.
“I need to get an answer for that, and I’m going to. I will fight for it.”
Further clouding the optics from a players’ perspective was that the settlement was agreed to the day that the man primarily responsible for protecting the NHL from a liability standpoint was celebrated for his contributions to the sport.
“Yeah, really wrecked my day,” Healy said, only semi-sarcastically.
That shouldn’t mean that we rush to conclude that Bettman’s induction was the reason for the settlement, and that the commissioner budged in order to wash his hands clean of the largest lawsuit facing the league to improve his own optics.
“They are totally separate, right? This is a celebration of our great game with some of the greatest players of all time. I’m here because I think it’s going to be one of the best nights that I’ve had in a long time. The other element, the legal element, the settlement, that’s totally different. You keep them apart, I think.
“It just so happens that it’s today. Maybe all the right powers to be were in the city together and they came up with a Hallelujah moment that led to this,” he added.
Planning to continue the fight with their own initiatives, Healy said there will likely soon be some news as the players reposition their stance.
Players have 75 days to decide whether or not to opt in and collect their $22,000 share.
The NFL agreed to a billion-dollar settlement to be paid over a 65-year span when a group of 20,000 former players brought the league to court under similar circumstances back in 2013.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined when asked to comment on the settlement.
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