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Suing the NHL for concussions would be a challenge

Dec 15, 2011, 9:21 PM EDT

Gary Bettman AP

NHL agent Alan Walsh argues that the increased speed of the post-lockout era is a big factor in the increase in concussions. That’s a fine point, but it’s also clear that there’s been a dramatic improvement in the general knowledge and awareness regarding head injuries, which is part of the reason the numbers are escalating.

Improved detection and treatment is a promising development for active NHL players, but what about former players who suffered from less informed days? Ex-NFL players are filing class-action lawsuits regarding concussions, so could that happen to the NHL?

The Globe & Mail’s Paul Waldie took an in-depth look at that subject. He found that while the players might have a case, there would be at least three significant obstacles in their path.

1. Hindsight: Sure, we know more about concussions now, but could former players really apply current knowledge to past events? Besides, if that information was out there, then why did the players soldier on?

2. Making a direct link between concussions and their health issues: Concussions aren’t the only cause of many problems retired athletes struggle with, after all. This point seems less challenging to refute, but the league could counter that it’s possible those concussions happened before they even entered the NHL.

3. Assumption of risk: Hockey is a big-time contact sport, after all.

The major counterargument for the first and third obstacles would allege that the players were misinformed by the league and its teams about the risks they were taking regarding concussions. My guess is that it might be tough to prove that the NHL deliberately misled players on this subject, though.

It’s heartbreaking to hear stories about former athletes suffering from memory loss, social problems and other issues related to concussions long after they stop playing. Sadly, it wouldn’t be surprising if the legal system found that such risks simply came (and come?) with the job, though.

  1. nhlbruins90 - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    If the legal system has any integrity (it doesn’t), it WOULD find that such risks come with the job.

    Does the job of fighting fires come with risks? Yes, it does. And a fireman in Massachusetts was laid to rest today because he accepted those risks. He accepted those risks for a much greater cause than entertainment, and for much less compensation. Thank God we have brave people who will accept those risks.

    The night clerk at 7-11 faces inherent risks, so do taxi drivers and almost every other job I know of. Some more, some less, but we all accept those risks. So choose an occupation with as much inherent risk as you are willing to take, and accept it.

    Has the NHL knowingly created an ‘unsafe workplace’ for its players? What we know about concussions is much greater today than it was 20 years ago, but our knowledge is still very incomplete. The league cannot be blamed. Further, the players are full partners is the NHL. Nothing can happen without the players agreement. This is an issue that the league and players have to address together for the benefit of both. The last thing we need is a bunch of self-serving lawyers getting involved.

    Having said all this, it’s clear the league and players have a problem. When the best players are falling like flies, the red light should go on. The rules, the equipment and as Roenick said, the mutual respect among players all have to be considered. That’s going to happen now, and that’s good. No need to play the blame game.

  2. solador78 - Dec 16, 2011 at 1:46 AM

    Bauer, Easton and RBK need to make better helmets. There’s your negligence.

    Except all these players have promotional deals…

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