In late July, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman responded to questions from U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal about hockey and its link to concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Bettman wrote that research indicated no clear link could be drawn between the sport and CTE, and Blumenthal has fired back with a scathing letter questioning the NHL’s commitment to keeping its players safe.
Bettman’s letter to Blumenthal became public when it was filed in a U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, where former NHL players have filed a class-action lawsuit against the league that is concussion-related. Blumenthal’s response comes more than two weeks later, and in it he took the NHL to task for not having a “serious, more sustained commitment to players’ safety and health.”
“My hope is that the country’s sports leagues — the NHL included — are fostering safety and sportsmanship, not putting profits ahead of players’ health,” Blumenthal wrote, via Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt. “Your response to my letter fails to demonstrate that the NHL shares this goal.”
In Bettman’s letter, he wrote that the “relationship between concussions and the asserted clinical symptoms of CTE remains unknown” and stated studies into CTE and its causes remain in the early stages. He added that research hasn’t yet confirmed the link between multiple concussions and CTE. It was in response to this that Blumenthal responded the league’s position was sending “conflicting, mixed messages.”
“The NHL insists that players safety is sacrosanct — a ‘top priority’ for the league — and recognizes the many dangers of concussions and head impacts,” Blumenthal wrote. “Your letter noted concussions can cause ‘long-term lasting effects’ like ‘permanent brain injury’ and ‘permanent brain damage.’ But the league appears unwilling to consider even the possibility that concussions cause CTE.”
Blumenthal said that despite warning signs in research, the league has continued to ignore the link between concussions and CTE before adding that even the NFL, which long denied the connection, has officially admitted the “link between playing football and acquiring CTE.”
“The risks are similar in hockey — a sport replete with hard hits to the head and league-sanctioned fighting," Blumenthal added. "The NHL should look to the NFL at a minimum for some guidance on a possible link rather than callously dismissing such a casual connection, despite mounting evidence.”
Blumenthal continued by saying the NHL leads by example and has the opportunity to have an impact on players at all levels, from minor professional to youth. Blumenthal added that the league now has the opportunity to be “on the right side of history and health.”
“To honor the sports and its players, I urge you to establish a foundation to support independent, impartial research and understanding about the science of head trauma and brain disease later in life, vigorously working to uncover the truth rather than degrading science and the game,” Blumenthal wrote.
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