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Bettman says it’s too early to link CTE to fighting

Dec 6, 2011, 11:24 PM EDT

Derek Boogaard Getty Images

Not all of the news coming out of the Board of Governors meeting in Pebble Beach has revolved around realignment. In addition to the well-publicized conference shuffling, Gary Bettman discussed a much more important topic on the second day of the meetings in California. Today, the NHL commissioner was discussing the New York Times article that revealed that yet another former NHL player had been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

It’s not surprising that Bettman was confronted with plenty of questions in the wake of the Times series of articles this week. But even as former players are being diagnosed, the league insists that it’s too soon to make any assumptions.

From QMI Agency: “Do you know everything that went on in their lives?” asked Bettman. “Were there other things going on which could also cause CTE? The data is not sufficient to draw a conclusion. Our experts tell us the same thing. You don’t have a broad enough database to make that assumption or conclusion because you don’t know what else these players might have had in common, if anything.”

But that wasn’t all Bettman had to say. He insists that the league has been ahead of the curve with head injuries and continues to look for ways to keep their players safe. “Look at our history,” Bettman told USA Today’s Kevin Allen. “Starting in 1997, we’ve been all across all fronts, whether it was the working study group, baseline testing, diagnosis and return-to-play protocol, rule changes and creation of the department of player safety, we’ve been doing lots and lots and will continue to do lots and lots. But there are no easy answers yet. But I think it’s unfortunate that people use tragedies to jump to conclusions that probably at this stage aren’t supported.”

The problem for the league and its decision makers is that there isn’t an easy fix even if CTE is positively linked to the NHL. It’s easy to say that fighting would eliminate the degenerative brain risk, but Rick Martin wasn’t a fighter and he was diagnosed with CTE earlier this year.

No matter what rule changes are put in place, hockey is a fast-paced, violent game. “Even if it’s a legal hit, it can lead to a concussion,” Bettman said. “We play a very fast-paced, physical game in a close environment. I think people need to take a deep breath and not overreact. It’s important to react and it’s something we’ll monitor closely.”

Nobody wants any of the players to have to endure mental or physical injuries that linger well past their playing career. The league may be slow to admit there is very likely a link between NHL hockey and CTE, but it’s true that there isn’t a quick fix to prevent players from potentially dealing with the disease.

The best news: it’s an issue that is getting mentioned at one of the most important meeting of the year. The first step is admitting there may be a problem. Once the issue is officially on the docket, the Board of Governors can take a look at possible solutions.

  1. comeonnowguys - Dec 6, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    To link? Perhaps. But definitely not to early to start heavy discussion and investigation.

    • drewsylvania - Dec 6, 2011 at 11:51 PM

      Yep. Needs to be done. I like fighting but I wouldn’t enjoy it if they’re getting permanent, debilitating brain injuries out of it.

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Dec 6, 2011 at 11:52 PM

      Investigation into what? Scientists are already working on establishing a link, if any. Nothing needs to be done by the NHL besides reading the reports of the medical professionals already working on this

      • comeonnowguys - Dec 7, 2011 at 9:58 AM

        Come on, that’s not what I meant at all. Investigation into the exact impact what can be changed in the sport to reduce the number of situations.

        It’s not just fighting, and it’s not just the massive blindside shots. it’s any type of contact with the head. It’s a high-speed contact sport. You’re never going to eliminate contact with the head. And, as research is showing, it’s not isolated to the professional level.

        The NHL can take the lead with this, to make smart and needed changes to the game. To not fight tooth and nail–like the NFL did–to discredit and hide the research.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Dec 7, 2011 at 10:47 AM

        You said it yourself, as long as there is contact there will unfortunately be head injuries. The NHL can either opt to take contact out of the game to avoid any future head injuries or they can look at changes to equipment to reduce them. There aren’t many other options so any investigation won’t last very long and likely won’t solve much

      • comeonnowguys - Dec 7, 2011 at 11:40 AM

        It’s not “contact vs. no contact.” It’s not that black and white.

        You can at least take a look at rules, like they have done with head hits, albeit inconsistently. You can look at procedures that deal with players that have sustained head injuries before letting them back on the ice. And, yes, look at equipment.

        There are smaller things that can be done to help reduce this. And it would take a bit of time to make sure any changes are 1) effective 2) proportional and 3) does not harm the game.

        You can’t just throw up your arms and say, “Oh well!” It’s irresponsible.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Dec 7, 2011 at 4:28 PM

        …which is why I suggested changes to equipment. I just can’t see what minor changes can be made to the rules that will have any kind of noticeable impact here. What are your suggestions?

  2. nhlbruins90 - Dec 6, 2011 at 11:51 PM

    Bettman is right. The data is simply not there. Interesting, intriguing, but no conclusions yet please.

    There could just as easily be a correlation between CTE and eating jellybeans. That most certainly does not mean eating jellybeans causes CTE.

  3. betrayedbylife - Dec 7, 2011 at 3:17 AM

    i have a link that has more conclusive evidence: the more the media (PHT included) tries to push the “ban fighting because it kills players” schtick, the more i want to slam my palm into my forehead

    • treydogg97 - Dec 7, 2011 at 8:25 AM

      Easy there, you might get CTE.

  4. bcjim - Dec 7, 2011 at 7:20 AM

    If fighting has to be banged in hockey, then football probably needs to be shut down entirely.

    • east96st - Dec 7, 2011 at 8:54 AM

      Funny you brought up football. Know what’s driving the “concern” about concussions and player safety in the NFL? As more and more of the ex-players die early and leave their mangled brains to science, fewer and fewer kids are playing tackle football. NFL saw a link between the horror stories and sports registrations. Moms won’t let Jr. play tackle football if they think he’s going to end up a houseplant. NHL would be wise to get ahead of this. I read the Times series on Boogaard and it’s brutal. Whether you think it’s a fair article or not, there’s no denying it’s the kind of article that can make a mom say “not my son”. Enough moms say that and the future of both games start to dim. If the best athletes are NOT playing a sport as a child, then the professional game starts to suffer as the quality of the athletes that do play starts to drop. Bettman comes across as a guy whistling past the graveyard. He’s going to have to do better than that or some of the hockey moms aren’t going to be hockey moms much longer. Nothing sadder than watching a sport slowly die from attrition. I’m not a doctor, so I won’t pretend I have the answer about how to make hockey or football “safe”. But I am a dad and I saw my wife’s reaction when our son asked to play football. He might as well have asked her if he could play with a loaded gun. The NHL needs to get ahead of this before more Boogaard-like stories hit the media. Once moms decide something is too dangerous for their children, it’s almost impossible to change their minds.

      • bcjim - Dec 7, 2011 at 9:07 AM

        Agree by and large. Football is headed for trouble. I played but my kids aren’t. They do play hockey, I think it is safe. You cant even check until Bantam now and fighting is forbidden. In 4+ years my oldest has never taken any kind of head impact.

        I hate to throw Canada under the bus but they need to stop training fighters, just train hockey players. If 2 hockey players get in an occasional scrap, who cares? But we do not need a “player” whose job it is to fight…those guys are the ones that take to many blows.

      • comeonnowguys - Dec 7, 2011 at 10:03 AM

        I played football as well. I’d prefer my sons not to play. IIRC, the average high school player takes, what, 1,000 contacts with the head a season?

        I’d have no problem with them playing hockey at this point. There’s just not the volume of hits that there are in football.

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