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What others say: Former players may change violent NHL culture

Posted: December 1, 2013 - 4:55pm

The glory days are gone. What’s left, for some National Hockey League players, is a life marred by the cumulative impact of brain injuries suffered during years spent in a brutal sport.

As news emerged of a blockbuster $5.2-billion deal between the NHL and Rogers Communications Inc. (allowing the CBC and tough-guy booster Don Cherry to keep their Saturday night gig for at least the next four years) another hockey story, without the razzle-dazzle but possibly just as significant, was hovering in the wings.

The Star’s Gemma Karstens-Smith reports that 10 former NHL players, including ex-Maple Leafs Rick Vaive and Gary Leeman, have launched a lawsuit claiming that the league failed to properly protect players from concussions. The players say they all now suffer from some combination of depression, memory loss and sleep disorders as a direct result of repeated head injuries during games.

The lawsuit claims the league had earlier knowledge of scientific evidence showing that repeated head injuries risk illness and disabilities. The suit says the NHL did not provide real protections until 2010 when it finally introduced its Rule 48, banning intentional hits to the head.

Launched just months after the National Football League agreed to a $765-million settlement with thousands of former players suffering from dementia and other conditions, the NHL lawsuit is the latest move by athletes who refuse to accept that debilitating injury is the price to be paid for an athletic career.

They face a long legal battle, and none of their allegations have been tested in court.

For far too long the NHL’s culture forced players to ignore head injuries in order to make a quick return to the game. Exposure to the ailments faced by former hockey pros is long overdue. Even though the damage can’t be reversed, the increased focus on the league’s violent culture should provide a cautionary tale for young players. Not to mention fans, since young players love to mimic their NHL heroes.

Let those youngsters and their parents hear the statements from veterans who suffer from neurological disorders or even dementia. The details of their struggles should provide serious pause for all.

This lawsuit could turn out to be a turning point in attitudes toward violence in hockey, one of the perpetual debates in Canadian life.

If it’s true that the NHL purposefully concealed the severe risks of brain injuries, as the players claim in their lawsuit, then it’s high time the details of their suffering were made known. Hockey fans should know the price that was paid for a few hours of entertainment.

— Toronto Star,

Nov. 26

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