By Ken Reed

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman adamantly denied this week a link between fighting and hits to the head in hockey with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease that experts say is caused by blows to the brain.

In a New York Times piece, John Branch reported that in a letter to United States senator Richard Blumenthal, a ranking member of the Senate’s Consumer Protection subcommittee, Bettman “blamed the news media for fanning fear of the long-term effects of head injuries and defended the NHL’s ‘more measured approach,’ to the growing science of concussions.”

If Bettman’s denials regarding the dangers of blows to the head sound similar to the denials of tobacco executives in the 1960’s regarding a link between smoking and lung cancer, you’re spot on.

After independent researchers found “a real association between carcinoma of the lung and smoking” in 1952, American tobacco companies were still denying the danger well over a decade later.

For example, a Philip Morris report in 1964 said, “We don’t accept the idea that there are harmful agents in tobacco.”

CTE has been diagnosed in at least six deceased NHL players. As of late 2015, 87 of 91 former NFL players who had their brains autopsied were found to have had CTE.

Nevertheless, for the meantime anyway, the NHL and Bettman will continue to use the tobacco industry’s playbook when it comes to the league’s concussion and brain disease issue.

— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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