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Cotsonika: NHL alums’ concussion lawsuit may be a foggy notion

It's the late shift and this is Paul's blog, not George's, but I'm going to ediatorialize a bit here: for better or worse, the new health care laws in the U.S. will allow someone with a crapton of preexisting health conditions--me--to qualify for health insurance coverage for the first time in eight years, and I'd admittedly been thinking about buying a pair of inline skates to tool around the neighborhood.

But a self-arrested stumble down the stairs taking down the trash a week ago put a scare into me. I suffered a severe concussion around the time my previous insurance coverage expired, and I still deal with some lingering effects. Feeling a little "wobbly" after grabbing myself on the railing was very scary, and that was just dealing with one concussion that went untreated save a precautionary CT scan (I literally got a pamphlet from Garden City Hospital that said, "You have a concussion! Here are some symptoms...").

I don't know if the players who sued the NHL for the lingering effects of concussion damage have a chance in hell of earning an NFL-style payout--I doubt it--but I sure as hell know how scary it is to know that you're not going to be quite the same after having one's "noodle" scrambled.

I think that it's very brave of people like the suit's headliners in Rick Vaive and Gary Leeman (as well as honorary Red Wings Alumni Association skater Darren Banks) to possibly alienate themselves from their NHL veterans' brotherhood and certainly shear any ties between themselves and the league for the sake of trying to delve into murky legal waters.

Yahoo Sports' Nicholas J. Cotsonika asked legal experts about the lawsuit, and he found that its chances of succeeding are "foggy" at best:

If the case goes to court, the plaintiffs’ lawyers will have to prove two main things: That brain trauma suffered in the NHL specifically caused the problems that former players are experiencing, and that the NHL knew the risks and didn’t do enough to inform and protect the players.

This could be the NHL’s defense: Doctors are still learning about the short- and long-term effects of brain trauma. How could the league conceal the risks for years when it still doesn’t know them definitively now? How could the league have dragged its feet when it has been out front on the issue relative to other pro sports leagues? And if the risks were so obvious, why don’t the players bear responsibility for themselves, especially when they have had influence through their union?

The suit states as fact that “both repeated concussions and sub-concussions cause permanent brain damage.” It cites studies conducted as long ago as the 1920s. But even the most current research, including the landmark work at Boston University on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is preliminary. BU has done a series of case studies with biased samples; it has not done incidence-of-prevalence studies. BU agrees that the risk factor and rate of progression of CTE have not been established. NHL and NHLPA doctors agree CTE exists, but like others, they say there are many unanswered questions.

“They keep going to the cause-and-effect relationship which hasn’t been supported at this point in time,” said Ruben Echemendia, the NHL’s neuropsychological consultant, in 2011. “It may be in the future, but at this point, it’s not. We don’t know what causes CTE. Nobody knows what causes CTE at this point in time.”

“If you look at all the people who have cognitive problems late in life and have dementia, have Alzheimer's, there's not an epidemic of ex-athletes in that population,” said Jeffrey Kutcher, a leading sports neurologist and an NHLPA consultant, in 2011. “There's a suggestion here and there that some populations of athletes have a higher risk of things like Alzheimer's, but it's not obvious and it's not a dramatic thing. So somewhere in there lies the truth, and to get to that truth, you need to do research – hard, complicated, long research.”

Cotsonika continues, and his article's more than worth your time.

Filed in: | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: concussions


Chet's avatar

I’d love to consult on this as a plaintiffs lawyer. The case has its weaknesses, but no, it doesn’t.

There’re major differences between the nhl and nfl that cannot be ignored. First among them? You guess what the nhl has allowed, sold tickets on, and highlighted for years that the nfl doesn’t have.

Rhymes with lighting.

I try lawsuits. I could make a winning case here. This element of the game exists today.

Most important and right or wrong, ALL of these plaintiffs will testify they got “their bell rung” and teams didn’t do enough after.

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 11/26/13 at 04:07 AM ET

Chet's avatar

… And by that I mean, sent them out to play immediately.

Doesn’t matter about concussion science, this case has “settlement” written all over it.

More important is how modern day CBAs write this out of the future of these leagues, if you are an owner..

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 11/26/13 at 04:12 AM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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