Saturday, 4 May 2019

The Sound Of Money

As Gary Bettman, Commissioner of the NHL, sat in front of the parliamentary panel at the meeting on Sports-Related Concussions in Canada held by the Standing Committee on Health and told the entire panel that, despite overwhelming evidence contrary to his statement, he wasn't aware of any "direct link between multiple hockey concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)," an oft-heard term that refers to brain injuries from repeated blows to the head. It was hard for me to watch his testimony without my jaw hanging open at his willful ignorance of all science and findings regarding CTE, but Bettman pushed forth with the same statements he's been uttering since CTE was found in a number of athletes in violent sports including his own NHL.

Ladies and gentlemen, Gary Bettman's voice is the sound of money.

If he were to admit that there may be a link between fights in hockey and checks to the head in hockey with CTE, he would open up the NHL to a ton of liability regarding the sport's violent nature that Bettman claims players and fans feel is an "exciting, appealing, entertaining" part of the game. While it would seem that he would be right based on the reactions from fans and players when a fight breaks out or a big hit is thrown - something that makes every highlight package on every sports highlight show - this committee meeting was about sports-related concussions and the efforts that sports are making to reduce the number and frequency of concussions suffered by athletes in those sports.

How did Gary Bettman respond when asked how his sport can reduce head contact? "Right now," he stated matter-of-factly, "I don't believe there's much we can do."

Cue a long sigh and shaking of my head at that response.

That question provided Gary Bettman with an out that would subject the NHL to no further risk of liability while allowing him the convenience of appearing to consider safety improvements had he simply responded, "The NHL is open to listening to its partners, players, and fans about improvements in our game."

Instead, we get the same rhetoric and a flat refusal to acknowledge any wiggle room on head contact by the NHL Commissioner. This is after we already know that Jeff Parker, Reggie Fleming, Zarley Zalapski, Rick Martin, Wade Belak, Bob Probert, Derek Boogaard, Larry Zeidel, and Steve Montador suffered from CTE. This is after the NHL is being sued by Todd Ewen's family after Boston University discovered CTE in his brain following a second examination at the urging of Todd's wife, Kelli, after a Toronto examination found no CTE two years prior. If Bettman's denials of science and findings don't scare players and players' families into action when looking at the names of fallen players above, I don't know what will.

Chris Nowinski, a Harvard-educated, former WWE wrestler-turned-Ph.D. who co-founded the non-profit Concussion Legacy Foundation, has received commitments from living players such as Hayley Wickenheiser and Ben Lovejoy to have their brains donated when they pass for further investigation into CTE. For Nowinski, he actually hopes he won't receive those brains.

"It's not necessarily that I was expecting someone like Ben Lovejoy's brain to show up anytime soon," Dr. Nowinski told Sports Illustrated's Alex Prewitt on May 7, 2018. "It's more to raise awareness that there is this brain bank and we're seeking players. We're in a race against time. I don't ever want Ben Lovejoy's brain to come here. I want the program to have been shut down because we cured CTE."

As much as it seems like Dr. Nowinski is optimistic in his work to find a cure for CTE, it seems he'll have repeated business from the NHL as long as Gary Bettman continues to deny links despite there being obvious evidence of his sport causing and contributing to CTE cases. And hearing his statements of denial on video is simply baffling.
Again, he was given an out when asked how his sport can reduce heas contact, but Gary Bettman continues to double-down on his past statements of "there has not been that conclusive link," and, quite frankly, it's getting tiresome when more and more hockey players are showing the effects of CTE through repeated instances of head trauma.

If you want to know what sound money makes, ask Gary Bettman to speak. Every time he does, he's protecting the vast wealth of the NHL by denying liability while profiting off the lives of men who put their bodies in harm's way to make him and the owners of the NHL richer. That simplified view of the game may sound criminal when considering the lives lost to CTE after a career in hockey, but that's the sound of money.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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