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 #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
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. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
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.
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.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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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