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


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