Skip to main content

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a news conference on Wednesday in Las Vegas.

John Locher/The Associated Press

Another prominent voice joined hockey's player-safety debate Thursday when United States Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) sent a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman demanding the league clarify recent comments that "appear dismissive about the link between head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the game of hockey."

Blumenthal is the ranking member of the Senate's Consumer Protection subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over professional sports.

In a letter dated June 23 and released by the senator's office, Blumenthal takes the NHL to task for not taking seriously "the prevalence and danger of concussions in the sport" and asks nine pointed questions of Bettman, all of them relating to the NHL's handling of concussions in the sport.

Story continues below advertisement

The NHL declined to comment on Blumenthal's letter, which "respectfully" requested Bettman respond within a month.

The NHL is already under fire from a group of former players who have launched a class action lawsuit in a Minnesota court seeking damages for head injuries they suffered during their playing careers. Multiple attempts by the league to have the players' lawsuit dismissed have failed.

In his letter, Blumenthal makes a reference to a series of e-mails, unsealed by the Minnesota court back in March, in which Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly and Brendan Shanahan, then head of the league's player safety department, appear to acknowledge a link between fighting, head injuries, concussion and depression, all factors that may have contributed to the deaths of three former NHL players – Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak – in the summer of 2011.

Boogaard's father Len was quoted by Senator Blumenthal's office, praising him for "an enormous service to this generation of hockey players and the next," and noting that the senator's advocacy "helps raise public awareness of this issue and leads to answers to these important questions facing hockey."

Blumenthal was particularly anxious to get Bettman to acknowledge the link between contact sports and CTE – something the NFL did for the first time earlier this year.

"Unfortunately, the NHL's response following the NFL's admission has been dismissive and disappointing," Blumenthal wrote.

"As the premier professional hockey league in the world, the senator added, "the NHL has an obligation not only to ensure the safety of your players, but to also engage in a productive dialogue about the safety of your sport at all levels – from youth to professional."

Story continues below advertisement

Some of Blumenthal's questions will be easier to answer than others. For example, he asks the league to outline the process by which a player is disciplined for an illegal head shot. Much of that information is available on the NHL's own website, in the explanations of supplementary discipline matters. He also asks for details on the current protocols for diagnosing and treating concussions, which the league could manage in a day.

Other queries, however, are more pointed and thus will be more challenging.

With a lawsuit still pending, it is difficult to imagine Bettman will give a definitive response to the question: Do you dispute that the documented CTE of former NHL players, like Derek Boogaard, is linked to injuries sustained while playing in the NHL?

Bettman is not believed to be under any legal obligation to respond, but for a handful of the easier queries, it wouldn't be out of character for him to provide long, detailed responses, so that he can outline, for the public record, exactly what steps the NHL has taken since 1997 to reduce the incidence of concussions in the game.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies