Terry Kane believes in transparency, which is why he is not bothered that a confidential e-mail he sent to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman back in 2005 is now part of the public record – correspondence unsealed by a Minneapolis court that is considering a class-action lawsuit against the league by concussed former players.
Kane, a member of the NHL's Injury Surveillance System between 2001 and 2005, sent an e-mail note to Bettman after the league decided to discontinue the work of the panel.
"I appreciate these comments are suicidal for any career aspirations I have within the NHL," wrote Kane, in his message to the NHL commissioner. "However, I am at a big loss to understand how discontinuing the most respected injury panel and injury surveillance system in all professional sport actually improves player health and safety in one of the most physically demanding sports in the world?"
Kane went on to add: "If you have any comments, please feel free to educate me on what I might be missing."
The injury analysis panel, chaired by former NHL goaltender Dave Dryden, spent four years providing the league with objective data to "focus and monitor injury prevention strategies," according to Kane, a former physiotherapist with the Calgary Flames and Canada's men's Olympic hockey teams, as well as a long-time advocate for player health and safety.
Decades ago, he and former Flames' doctor Winne Meeuwisse launched a website – www.hockey-injuries.com – which tracked injuries and provided information to parents about how to best safeguard children playing minor hockey.
"Despite what the National Hockey League may say or think, we live in an era of transparency – and that transparency gives insight in how decisions are made to ensure the health and safety of players is at the forefront," Kane said in a telephone interview. "That to me is what's really becoming revealed in this exchange of e-mails, so I have no problem with my e-mail being involved.
"What my dad [Joseph Kane, a former superior court judge] told me is, 'Integrity isn't doing the right thing when people are watching, it's doing the right thing when no one is watching.' The reason I wrote to Gary Bettman is, I knew where the buck stopped. I didn't ever want to hear Gary Bettman say, 'I didn't hear that.'"
According to Kane, Bettman eventually did reply – but he did so in a letter, not an e-mail.
"Essentially, his comment back to me was, 'The league is still committed to safety.' And that the decision to do this [disband the panel] was done in conjunction with the NHLPA."
After a year (2005-06) in which no injury data were recorded, the league instituted a new surveillance system that is still in effect today. Kane says the new tracking system does a good job of collecting information. However, he believes an important dialogue among the league's stakeholders was lost when that panel was disbanded.
"You'd have 20 people in the room – general managers, Scotty Bowman, players, the NHLPA – these were incredibly instructive meetings," Kane said. "When all of a sudden it came out that this was going down the tubes, I wrote that e-mail advocating for some kind of system. Having nothing wasn't the answer."
Kane continues to provide medical advice for injured players at every level of hockey on his website, noting: "There was a time when people in hockey could plead ignorance because we didn't have data. It was, 'Play through it kid, suck it up.' Well now that the data has become available, everybody in hockey – parents, coaches, administrators, leagues – has a moral, if not legal, obligation to act on that data."
Kane is curious to see how the proceedings will eventually unfold in that Minneapolis court room.
"There is a very valuable role for an adjudicator, a court, for a public discussion, whereby all the parties have to be held accountable for their actions," he said. "So I do agree with it going forward to a court. Whether I think it's an issue for liability, that's up to a judge to decide based on the evidence that comes forward.
"This is a workplace safety issue. If it were a construction site, and if people were pushing other people or tools off high rises, there'd be an inquiry tomorrow. This is long overdue because it's going to hold all parties accountable.
"People will be revealed for their true selves, and that, in my mind, will be the greatest legacy in all this. People, their masks will have come off."