In an unsettling piece by TSN’s Rick Westhead today, startling correspondence between U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman pertaining to the ongoing brain injury discussion is examined at length. Today, Blumenthal wrote his latest letter to the league offices, asking about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease linked to Alzheimer’s:
Why does the NHL so readily and quickly discount or dismiss warning signs of a link between hockey and CTE? Even a cursory analysis of several medical journals should sound an alarm.
This is not the first time that Blumenthal has written Bettman. In June, he wrote a letter looking for answers on the NHL’s position on brain injuries, using the examples of six former NHL players (Derek Boogaard, Reggie Fleming, Bob Probert, Rick Martin, Steve Montador and Larry Zeidel) who were diagnosed posthumously with CTE. Westhead writes that Bettman responded in July, denying that there is any proven causation between hockey and long-term brain injury.
On the Hustler & Lawless radio show (link in article), Westhead reports that Bettman takes the position (for both the NHL and NHLPA) that it would be “dangerous and premature” to warn players about CTE. While Bettman is clear in his views in the letter, Westhead does write that it’s still unclear whether he speaks for all 30 NHL owners.
In his latest letter, Blumenthal writes passionately about the disturbing ignorance he believes the NHL is showing when it comes to brain injury:
Most puzzling is why you attack others for asking these profoundly important questions. Instead of aggressively seeking to advance the science surrounding concussions, you accuse the ‘media’, ‘media consultants’, lawyers and players of ‘fear mongering’. Your letter suggests that seeking facts about concussions and CTE could instill ‘unwarranted fears’ that lead to ‘depression’ and ’suicide.’
Your leadership guides professional players who are admired and revered by junior, college, amateur and youth hockey players. Your failure to take a safety issue seriously could have ramifications for players at every level, seriously affecting public health….The NHL has a duty to behave responsibly in light of its public trust.
Westhead probes further into whether or not Blumenthal’s letters are a real view or whether it’s just political posturing, and truly the whole article is worth reading. It’s just the latest in the ongoing battle the NHL faces when it comes to brain injuries and their prevention.
Just last week, twenty more players joined the lawsuit filed against the NHL that alleges “the NHL knew or ought to have known about the link between repetitive concussive events and long-term brain damage but failed to protect or educate its players.”. The suit is set to be brought before a Minneapolis court later this year.