By Ken Reed
The NFL and NHL have similar concussion problems, and similar approaches to the concussion issue: denial and avoidance behavior.
For years, the two professional leagues denied they had a significant problem related to concussions. Then, as the concussion issue came to light and the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) began to receive more attention in the media, the two leagues implemented an avoidance behavior strategy. If we ignore it (and hide it), it will go away.
Well, as we know now, the issue didn’t go away. The NFL was hit with a class-action lawsuit brought by former players that claimed the league concealed information about the dangers of concussions. The NHL is now dealing with a very similar lawsuit.
Meanwhile, former players in both leagues continue to suffer from the aftereffects of concussions and repetitive blows to the brain.
In the NHL, the problem is especially acute with former enforcers (aka thugs), whose primary purpose for being on NHL rosters was to protect the star players on their teams by fighting opponents on the ice.
Once retired, many former NHL enforcers suffer from symptoms common to CTE, including memory loss, depression, wild mood swings, impulsiveness, addiction, headaches, etc. The list of former enforcers dead before the age of 50 is growing and includes Bob Probert, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak, Steve Montador, and Todd Ewen.
John Branch, a writer for the New York Times and author of a provocative book on the sad life of Boogaard, recently wrote an excellent feature article on another struggling former NHL enforcer, Stephen Peat. CTE can’t be officially diagnosed until after death, but Peat has all the classic symptoms: memory loss, headaches, moodswings, etc.
“Hockey’s been the greatest thing in my life, but it’s also been the worst thing in my life,” Peat said.
“It was great while I was playing, but what has it done lately? My peers of enforcers have become statistics and the N.H.L. is in denial. They’re denying that the job I did even existed, even though I sacrificed my quality of life, my well-being and my future greatly by being there for my teammates in the present. I don’t think the coaches or anyone was thinking of me 10 years down the road when they were pushing me out there to fight, you know what I mean?”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and other top NHL officials, have privately acknowledged that fighting could lead to concussions and long-term health issues, including depression, according to emails discovered as part of the ongoing court battle with former players.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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