NHL blowing smoke harkens to Big Tobacco era
Reading Gary Bettman’s recent comments about there not being enough data to link concussions and the degenerative disease CTE, it reminded this corner of the Big Tobacco denials about cigarettes and lung cancer back in the day.
It sure seems like Bettman is blowing smoke on this one, refusing to commit to what many top brain surgeons are saying is the obvious.
At a time when the NFL is dealing with multiple lawsuits related to the treatment of concussions – the latest launched last week – the NHL might want to be seen to be as being pro-active as possible, even just to protect their owners.
The one thing they have going for them is the hockey mentality has tended to be less about litigation and challenging the status quo – hence all the chicanery Alan Eagleson was able to get away with for years.
One of those agreeing with Bettman last week was Dr. Ruben Echemendia, directed of the NHL’s concussion working group. This is the same guy who once told the Star the general medical consensus is that players should be kept out of the lineup until they're symptom free – unless it’s the playoffs.
Bettman might want to think about his legacy on this one, if not the players’ brain cells. More and more the consequences of repeated blows to the head is becoming frighteningly evident.
Does he want to be remembered as the guy who twiddled his thumbs while more and more players were knocked into future dementia as he waited for more to die so their brains could be studied to help him decide what to do about it?
Sounds of Silence: Bill Daly responded to the Star’s story on former Maple Leafs’ sports psychologist Paul Dennis’ call for an independent inquiry into the deaths of the three enforcers this summer and the suggestion that the league hasn’t done enough to look into the tragedies.
Dennis said he wrote the NHL and the NHLPA to offer his help with an independent inquiry, but while the players association responded they’d take it under advisement, he never did hear back from the NHL.
Daly wrote last week: “Sorry for the delay in responding, but I was on the west coast at our Board of Governors' meeting and I had to do some digging to see about the letter we purportedly haven't responded to yet.
“As for the latter, I can say that I have checked around internally, and no one recalls ever receiving or reviewing a letter from Paul Dennis. I'm not suggesting it was never sent, but I am saying that to the extent it was sent and received by the League, it never got to the right person for response.
“As for the substantive suggestion that we haven't done ‘enough -- or anything for that matter -- to look into the recent deaths,’ I would say the opinion is unfounded and unsupported by the facts. How can anyone make that assumption without having any knowledge whatsoever of what we have been and are doing -- including with respect to retaining an independent? We undertook to look into this matter thoroughly, and we are fully engaged in delivering on that commitment. We will make appropriate public comments and announcements if and when we have something to report. Until then, it will continue to be treated -- appropriately so in my view -- as an internal League and PA matter.”
Dennis replied: “My correspondence was sent to Brendan Shanahan. Since he's the vice-president of hockey development I thought that he would oversee that area of concern. Since the PA acknowledged receipt, I was quite surprised Mr. Shanahan did not.
“In your column, Randy, you quoted me as saying, ‘...if it is happening, they're (the NHL) keeping it to themselves.’ So I wasn't condemning them for not doing anything. I had no idea one way or another. I am very pleased to hear Mr. Daly's comments that the league is ‘fully engaged in delivering on that commitment.’ This is very good news.”
We’ll see about that. By keeping it internal and giving no details, they keep us all in the dark, which is exactly the way they like it.
Dennis later pointed out a follow-up New York Times article in which Rangers’ players refused to comment about the recent findings regarding CTE in Derek Boogaards’ brain.
Sean Avery told the Times: "We've been told not to talk about it...I certainly have opinions on it, but we've been told not to comment".
Goalie Martin Biron told the Times: "It's for the people in charge to really talk about, not so much us players.”
Dennis wasn't impressed.
“It reinforces the problem,” said Dennis. “This demonstrates the disconnect not only amongst players themselves, but between the athletes and management. Even more reason why they need an independent inquiry.”
Concussion Library Opens: Dr. Paul Echlin, one of the great advocates for concussion education, has made a huge contribution to the cause with the unveiling last week of the online Sports Concussion Library.
He was concerned about the lack of information for parents out there and wanted to create a resource to help educate them fully. It’s aimed at parents, athletes, researcher, medical practitioners, coaches, trainers and educational institutions.
One of Echlin's personal favourites is an interview with the Honourable R. Roy McMurtry that gives a 40-year perspective of hockey violence.
(The Associated Press photo is of Marc Savard, laid out on the ice after one of many concussions. It's not hard to come up with compelling concussion photos, that's for sure.)