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Till Death do them Part: The NFL/NHL and their Players

picture is the property of G.Herman Thomas-BabethomhermanRecently, Federal Senior District Court Judge, Anita Brody approved a plan to settle thousands of NFL concussion lawsuits that could cost the league $1 billion over the span of 65 years. The settlement is designed to compensate those with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other serious neurological conditions. Unfortunately the plan doesn’t include future awards for deaths associated with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a degenerative condition many scientists believe is caused by head trauma. It’s caused by a buildup of tau, an abnormal protein that strangles brain cells. Brain cells generally cannot repair themselves and only in an autopsy can CTE be diagnosed. Repeated concussions may increase a person’s risk later in life to CTE and mental health issues such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease and depression.

Last week my blog touched on the subject of  NFL football players and brain disease. This week I will be focusing on NHL players because they're at risk of suffering from concussion linked brain injuries as well. Similar lawsuits filed against the National Hockey League (NHL), the NCAA and others, have many lobbying for stricter safety measures to be implemented to minimize the risk of concussions.  click on above highlighted link to reference last weeks article,"Weighing the Cost:The NFL and Brain Disease"

Although similar, the one disparity that sets the NHL’s lawsuits apart from the NFL’s is that by engaging in fighting on the ice, NHL players willfully assume the health risks involved that may occur from those particular acts of violence.

In my opinion, the culture of violence that has become acceptable by the NHL, their players and followers, makes it even more dangerous than collegiate and professional football period. This is a league which allows head-shots and the health of their players appear to be placed on the back burner!

Pittsburgh Penguin, Sidney Crosby missed a majority of the 2010-11 season because of a severe concussion injury. He sustained this injury from hits to the head in back to back games. He also had to miss a large portion of the 2011-12 season when concussion like symptoms returned.

Although I applaud the Penguins organization for exhibiting great patience in regards to Crosby’s return to the ice, I imagine there had to be external pressures coming from the league, fans and corporate sponsors for his return. In October 2014, Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes, suffered his third concussion of his 5 year NHL career during an exhibition game. Although his latest concussion wasn’t as serious as the first two, three concussions in such a short span for the 22 year old Left Wing, should be a major concern.

Also let’s not forget about former NHL enforcer, the late Derek Boogaard (Minnesota Wild). On May 13, 2011, while recovering from a concussion, he was found dead in his apartment at the young age of 28. It was later determined that he died from an accidental overdose of oxycodone and alcohol. Boogaard became the third enforcer to die under the age of 40.

Before his cremation his brain was removed to be examined by scientist. The results revealed that he suffered from CTE. It was also determined to be more advanced than previous enforcers who died during the middle ages of their lives. In May 2013, Boogaard's family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the NHL and their players union, blaming the league for brain damage suffered while playing hockey and for his addiction to prescription painkillers.

Concussion risk start at youth league levels and generally speaking, regardless of protective equipment and brands, incidents of concussions remain the same. The good news though is the Universities of Virginia Tech and Wake Forest both have helmet rating systems in place for adult football, hockey, baseball, softball and lacrosse helmets that could eliminate the risk of using unsafe protective headgear.

Although the NHL will ultimately settle all the lawsuits against them, their business first approach over the safety of NHL players needs to cease!

Present and future NHL players must do their part and seek major reforms as it pertains to their safety on the ice. Besides, there’s no need to make millions during your career and not enjoy it due to failing health or death. The phrase “till death do us part” should only pertain to wedding vows and not player loyalty to leagues like the NHL and NFL that feels no sense of loyalty towards them. 

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