This year’s Stanley Cup final pits one of hockey’s greatest stars against one of the most compelling underdogs in National Hockey League history.
It would be easier, however, to enjoy watching Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals battle the expansion rejects of the Las Vegas Golden Knights had NHL commissioner Gary Bettman not refused – again – to acknowledge a possible link between concussions and neurodegenerative conditions.
He did so Monday, two days after Cecilia Franzen, wife of Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen, detailed the “rollercoaster” of her husband’s post-concussion symptoms on her blog (he hasn’t played in nearly three years).
Then, TSN published documents illustrating just how sensitive the NHL is about drawing a straight line between concussions and later incapacity: In 2011, league officials ordered a filmmaker to cut comments along those lines by Pat Lafontaine, whose Hall of Fame career ended prematurely thanks to concussions, from a league-funded television series.
TSN also broadcast excerpts from a 2015 deposition of influential Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, in which he surprisingly claimed he’d never heard of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or CTE) – a wasting disease found in the brains of dozens of former hockey players, the first of whom was ex-Bruin Reggie Fleming in 2009.
Mr. Bettman and his officials always hide behind the same smokescreen: We’re just repeating what the science tells us. But the NHL only listens to scientists who happen to dispute the mounting evidence that CTE and concussions are related.
At the same time, the NHL clearly believes repeated blows to the head are a health hazard. Why else go to the trouble of hiring concussion spotters? Why fine at least three teams for not following return-to-play protocols, as TSN’s documents show happened?
This intellectual dishonesty is only made worse by the fact the NHL is focusing the argument on definitions and causality – a page from the Big Tobacco obfuscation handbook.
This week should be a celebration of hockey. Instead, it’s a reaffirmation that the NHL’s leadership exists to serve the interests, not of players willing to give everything to raise the Cup, but of their billionaire bosses. It’s hard to watch.