SBD/December 2, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Concussion Suit Plaintiffs Face Different Circumstances Than NFL Counterparts

In '97, the NHL became the first league to adopt a baseline concussion test
A concussion lawsuit filed by 10 former players against the NHL "faces more of an uphill battle than the lawsuits that resulted in former NFL players getting a huge settlement," according to Adrian Dater of the DENVER POST. The one group of players who "might have a case against the NHL are the fighters, who were often told to just go back out on the ice, no matter how beaten up they were." But the fighters have "the most pride, so don't expect to see many join the lawsuit." The NFL "got in trouble because it tried to hide the medical science, a sin akin to tobacco companies that said nicotine wasn't addictive, though they knew it was." That is why the NFL "was forced to settle." The NHL is the league that "first adopted a baseline concussion test" in '97, so beating the league in court "won't be as easy" (DENVER POST, 12/1). The CBC's Glenn Healy said the NHL is "going to dig in" against the lawsuit, and noted with players have played in Europe, in juniors and in various other leagues, "how do you prove it is from" the NHL? Healy: "Some of the guys actually didn't actively wear helmets when they played." He said the lawsuit is "going to be a tough one to prove and the discovery will take many, many years." The CBC's Elliotte Friedman said, "All indications from the league … is that they are going to fight this hard." Friedman: "A lot of this is players saying, 'Look, we feel that a lot of us fall through the cracks when we retire.' They don't only have a problem with the league with that, they're also upset at the players association for that. I think ultimately that the goal here is a settlement and seeing where that goes" ("HNIC," CBC, 11/30).

TAKING THE BLAME: In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote anyone who ever has played in the NHL "has the right to know whether he has been lied to about medical issues by his team or the league." If the "only way to get such answers is through the legal system, actions such as the lawsuit filed early last week ... will serve a valuable purpose." Many former NHLers in the past week "seem to have mixed feelings about the lawsuit, and few believe they were lied to by responsible parties." Brooks: "These guys bemoan their lousy pensions, but they don't blame the league." If they "blame anyone and anything, they blame themselves, they blame their culture, and they blame their time" (N.Y. POST, 12/1). In Newark, Eliot Shorr-Parks noted former NHLer Jeremy Roenick "did not jump on board" with the lawsuit. Roenick said, "I've always lived in the fact that I played the game of hockey knowing there was a lot of risk to be taken. I went on the ice knowing that my health and my life could be altered in a split second." He added, "I'm not going to tell people what to do and say. ... They can go after the league that they craved to be in since they were little kids and paid their salary" (NJ.com, 11/27). The DENVER POST's Dater in a front-page piece profiles former NHLer Scott Parker, once one of the league's "toughest enforcers." But Parker now "finds himself paying the price for years of blows to his head." Parker is not part of the suit, and to "this day, he defends fighting and says he understood the risks" (DENVER POST, 12/2). The CBC's Don Cherry on Saturday said the lawsuit is a "money grab." He acknowledged he feels sorry for "some of the guys who maybe got whacked a little." But Cherry added, "They say they didn't know the danger going into the National Hockey League? Absolutely ridiculous" ("HNIC," CBC, 11/30).

ON SECOND THOUGHT: The AP noted former NHLer Rick Vaive "asked that his name be removed" from the suit. Vaive’s lawyer, Trevor Whiffen, said that his client "wasn’t provided with a copy of the claim beforehand and that he would not have agreed to the allegations made against the NHL had he been asked to review its contents." Whiffen in a statement said, “Mr. Vaive misunderstood the nature of the proceeding being brought, and believed this claim was similar to the worker’s compensation claim being advanced in California on behalf of several former NHL players" (AP, 11/29).
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