A crucial decision looms in a lawsuit filed by former players against the National Hockey League (NHL). The players allege that the league knew about the long-term brain injuries that can result from playing hockey but took no action to warn players about nor prevent those injuries. The decision—whether the lawsuit will proceed as a class-action lawsuit—has brewed for years, as more than a hundred former players and their legal representatives took to the courts to face off against lawyers for the NHL. The league has long denied that there’s any connection between hockey and the players’ traumatic brain injuries.
No Deadline for When Class Action Ruling Will Occur in NHL Lawsuit
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson will decide whether to officially rule the case a class-action lawsuit, which could include every player who ever played for the league. The lawsuit, which former players filed in 2014, has steadily gained momentum since that time, with two Stanley Cup champions among the latest to join. There is no deadline by which Judge Nelson must make her decision, but it’s already been several months since she heard closing arguments on March 16, 2018.
The review process will be extensive, with an estimated 7,000 pages of defendant’s briefs for Judge Nelson to consider as she makes her decision.
Once a decision is made the lawsuit will either move forward as a class-action or will shift to individual cases for each player who has joined.
Two Former Blackhawks Players Join Concussion Lawsuit
The latest players to join the NHL concussion lawsuit both played for the Chicago Blackhawks at varying times in their careers: Nick Boynton from 2009-2011 and Dan Carcillo from 2011-2013 and the 2014-2015 season. Both say playing in the league took a devastating toll on their lives, with numerous concussions and injuries that they say led to lives now filled with complications from their traumatic brain injuries. They’re also similar in their lawsuit goals: Improved health and wellbeing for past players and current players. Their motivation, they say, has nothing to do with financial gain.
Nick Boynton Pledges His Brain for Research
Nick Boynton has spoken very publicly about life after the NHL. In an essay entitled “Everything’s Not Okay” Boynton describes a reality that is, to most readers, shocking and disturbing.
Boynton opens the essay with these words:
I’ve lied for too long. I can’t lie anymore. Everything’s not O.K. Things have actually been pretty awful for me in a lot of ways. And I’m tired of the act. So, you know…here we are. That’s why I’ve finally decided to put pen to paper.
He then goes on to detail his time playing where he believes he suffered at least 20 to 30 concussions. Boynton writes of taking hits where he would subsequently blackout and end up watching footage of himself from later in the game doing things that he had no recollection of.
Boynton is so dedicated to research that he’s pledged to donate his brain for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) study. CTE is associated with a host of symptoms, including depression and progressive dementia and has been found in the brains of 99 percent of the studied brains of former NFL players. Hockey players have not been studied as extensively, but CTE has been found in six former NHL players.
Dan Carcillo Says He Will Donate Any Money He Gets From Lawsuit
Dan Carcillo says his goal to encourage research. He feels so strongly about it that he says he’ll donate any money he receives to that cause. Carcillo says he hopes to put pressure on the NHL. while he admits that some of the responsibility falls to the players to ensure their wellbeing, he says that players are too scared to speak up for themselves.
That silence can be deadly, according to Carcillo, who outlined on Twitter his beliefs that repeated head trauma (and the NHL’s lack of “treatment and education” for it) was responsible for the deaths of four of his friends and former NHL players, three of whom died from suspected suicide and one from an overdose. Like many, Carcillo points to the depression and anxiety symptoms of traumatic brain injuries as a culprit or contributor to those outcomes.
CTE Found in More Young Athletes
Concerns over CTE are mounting in the medical field as researchers find more and more athletes affected and at younger and younger ages.
One of the main challenges with CTE is that it can only be diagnosed after death by studying the brain. This means many may live with CTE without knowing it, and that many others may have it, but it will not be discovered because their brains aren’t studied. Despite this challenge, researchers have already found CTE in the brains of three college football players.
The latest was 21-year-old Tyler Hilinski, a backup quarterback with Washington State, who committed suicide on January 16, 2018. The medical examiner who performed the autopsy said that young Tyler had the brain of a 65-year-old, raising questions of just how little time in a contact sport can cause severe damage to the brain.
NHL Officials Adamantly Deny Connection Between Sport and Brain Injuries
Those running the NHL, including Commissioner Gary Bettman, so far refuse to acknowledge any connection between their league and the injuries of the former players.
In early court filings, the league stated that there is enough information in the media about concussions and their effects that players should have figured out the risks. While arguing that angle, however, the league also denies having any knowledge of CTE.
Phil Anschutz, owner of the Los Angeles Kings, and Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs both said in depositions that they had never heard of CTE. Bettman addressed the findings of CTE in former NHL players saying that he thought the sample group was too small.
Critics are quick to point out that those in charge of the league should have been aware of medical conditions that most fans are completely familiar with. Those critics question how the owners could not have ever heard of CTE when the NFL just recently settled a lawsuit from players that will likely cost them around $1 billion. If NHL officials don’t know anything about CTE, critics say, it’s almost equally as alarming as them ignoring the problem.