Dan LaCouture is what you’d call a tough guy. He played over 300 games in the National Hockey League (NHL), often finding himself in the middle of skirmishes on the ice.
During his career, LaCouture sustained a lot of concussions, the worst of which happened back in 2004 when he was playing on the New York Rangers. While in a fight, he ended up falling backward, slamming his head onto the ice. According to LaCouture, the back of his skull opened. “From there everything kind of changed for me personally in my life,” he says.
During his long career, LaCouture felt pressure to bounce back from head injuries and stay on the ice. He wanted to continue playing so he wouldn’t let his teammates down, but he also didn’t want to lose his job. Head injuries at that time were looked at the same way a shoulder injury or a knee injury was looked at; sure the injury needed time to heal before you could play at 100 percent, but the possibility of serious, long-term damage simply wasn’t something that was discussed.
That’s why LaCouture joined a class-action lawsuit against the NHL: He and other former players claim that—much like former players in the National Football League—the NHL knew for at least a decade that concussions carried long-term health risks. And yet, LaCouture and other plaintiffs in the case believe the league held back this vital information about concussions, all while continuing to play up the sport’s more violent edge to boost the fanbase.
According to LaCouture, there wasn’t any point in his career where he or other players knew that concussions could lead to Parkinson’s, dementia, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Now, he and the other plaintiffs are hoping their concussion lawsuit will change the sport for the better, making player safety a bigger priority.
At the end of March, the former players got some good news from a U.S. District Judge in Minnesota, who struck down the NHL’s attempt to get their case tossed based on time-sensitivity and jurisdictional issues. Judge Susan Richard Nelson found the NHL’s arguments for dismissal to be insufficient.