Do the leaders of professional hockey need to spend some time in the penalty box? It might seem so based on a report in the New York Times that the National Hockey League, as it battles its own players in court over the harms caused by repetitive head injuries, is adopting the dubious legal playbook used by pro football, Big Tobacco and Big Sugar.
The $4-billion-a-year NHL, it seems, has taken off its mitts, thrown them on the ice, and is throwing blows to challenge the ever-mounting, evidence-based research that finds that concussions are detrimental to brain health and can lead to the disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.
The National Football League, after years of CTE denial, including efforts to undercut its medical science and to attack its researchers, conceded that repeated head trauma harmed its players, and pro football settled with them for more than $1 billion.
Hit with a similar class-action lawsuit, the NHL is demanding reams of scientific data and other materials from Boston University researchers who are among the leaders in studies about head trauma. Pro hockey, hitting low, also insists that it needs detailed information, including interviews and the legally protected identities of anonymous athletes who donated their brains for scientific study.
Although NHL lawyers say this voluminous disclosure is necessary to establish the credibility of CTE research, experts outside the case call it harassment and a legal distraction. They say these are familiar tactics that Big Tobacco pioneered to try to forestall court losses over its bad conduct.
I’ve written about how the NFL tried to pull some fast ones to undercut concussion research, and how Big Sugar, emulating Big Tobacco, has gotten caught paying elite researchers to point fingers away from sugar and toward saturated fats as a significant health harm.
In my practice, I see the tragic consequences that result from brain and spinal cord injuries. I’ve said before that it’s saddening to see professional sports, which young people worship and try to model themselves after, fight and fail to protect their own beloved athletes to protect their franchises and a buck. Head trauma is a serious issue. Sports that fail to reckon with its consequences may simply be imperiling their own future. They need to protect their players, from the past, now, and in the future.