NHL execs resented concussion warnings from doctors, emails show
Published Thursday, March 31, 2016 10:00PM EDT
Although their private email conversations about concussions are now publicly available, National Hockey League officials are remaining tight-lipped on the issue.
Catalyzed by the unsealing of hundreds of court documents, the league is facing mounting criticism -- and a pending lawsuit -- over its handling of on-ice concussions.
Read all the emails at the bottom of this story.
Still, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has remained silent despite repeated requests for comment. When approached by CTV News in New York on Thursday, Bettman had little to say.
"As I’ve said repeatedly, we're in the middle of litigation,” Bettman said. “Court is the right place to have this discussion."
Some, though, have been speaking up for years. Neurosurgeon Charles Tator has examined the brains of former NHLers, and warns of the effects of repeated blows to the head.
A career of hard hits, Tator says, can have a lasting effect on a player.
"The evidence is getting stronger by the day that we can connect the dots between repetitive blows and degeneration of the brain in hockey players."
‘Too many so-called experts’
In 2011, fans couldn’t avoid the issue when the game’s biggest star, Sidney Crosby, was forced to miss most of the season with a concussion and post-concussion symptoms. The Pittsburgh Penguins centre was held out for almost 15 months of play after two big hits to the head in two consecutive games.
But officials still weren’t interested in hearing from specialists, email exchanges reveal.
"I am sick and tired of all these other Think Tanks WITH reputable people just blaming it on the NHL..." wrote Colin Campbell, vice president of NHL hockey operations, in December of 2011.
On the same day, fellow VP Kris King shared similar sentiments, specifically naming Tator as an example.
“I do agree we are now at the point where we as a group must do all we can to 'beat this up' and not with the Charles Tators of the world, just Hockey people as you have stated."
Senior VP of NHL hockey operations Mike Murphy responded, lamenting input from those who hadn’t played at a professional level.
"I'm a strong believer we are 'over doctored'... too many so called experts weighing in who have never been on the field of play,” Murphy wrote. “I think we have enhanced our problem by listening to all these experts."
Neurosurgeon and concussion specialist Neilank Jha said the NHL and other professional sports leagues have been mismanaging the problem for years.
“Since 2011, from the emails we can see,” Jha said. “They can do a much better job. They need stronger leadership. They need to be more accountable to the players -- the current ones, the past ones, as well as the kids coming up.”
According to league records, 2011 was the worst year ever for concussions. It wasn’t just specialists sounding off about the dangers of brain injuries.
In October of 2011, Nashville’s Mike Fisher was knocked out of a game by a legal hit, causing Predators’ part-owner Tom Cigarran to write to Bettman, demanding action.
"I intend to bring this up at every owners meeting until changes are made,” wrote Cigarran.
“Enough is enough."
TSN Senior Corespondent Rick Westhead