Ice hockey is an extremely physical sport. With NHL players averaging over 6’1″ and more than 200 pounds and with the ability to skate up to speeds in excess of 20 miles per hour, the capacity for life-altering collisions is high. As the video below portrays, with Eric Lindros being annihilated by a Scott Stevens body check, even the biggest of men in the NHL can be victims of this vicious sport.
Other prominent Philadelphia Flyers have had their careers shortened and personal lives affected. Keith Primeau, after multiple concussions, retired early and reports that he could not function regularly in his off the ice life because of debilitating headaches. It took him 7 years to feel normal again. Chris Pronger below discusses that the results of his hockey injuries and related post concussion syndrome not only knocked him out of the league but also compromise his day-to-day activities, such as playing with his kids.
These are just a few examples from the Philadelphia Flyers, but the issues of life-altering concussion-related symptoms are pervasive in the NHL. Daniel Carcillo, also a former Flyer known more for his fighting ability than his offensive skills, created the Chapter 5 Foundation to help bring attention to the lack of support that players receive from the NHL Player’s Association in preventing and dealing with the injuries that they face, with particular focus on how it relates to the transition planning of life after hockey. The death of his friend and fellow NHL veteran Steve Matador in 2015 from a drug overdose prompted Carcillo to take action. Matador suffered from depression and drug abuse issues, which are believed to be linked to the 19 or so concussions that he suffered from in his 10 season career.
The video above highlights that CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a neurodegenerative disease that effects individuals that receive multiple head injuries is quite a serious problem for NHL players. Symptoms may include reclusiveness, reduced impulse control, headaches, depression, anxiety, memory loss, drug and alcohol abuse, and dementia. Something needs to be done to provide players support while in the NHL but also helping them after their playing days are done. Identifying and providing counseling to athletes that are at high-risk of depression and substance abuse is a MUST.
But how has the league responded to this? Commissioner Gary Bettman is on record saying that there is no proof that hockey can lead to CTE. He cannot actually believe this, can he? Perhaps he is just a puppet for the league delivering a carefully crafted message written by its lawyers. He does claim, however that the league has placed Spotters at every game to look for symptoms of concussions and to pull players out of games if they exhibit any signs. However, and this is a BIG HOWEVER, Spotters do not have to be medical experts and are sometimes simply coaches. Think they have the medical expertise to make a call that could potentially result in more permanent brain damage if the wrong call is made? I think not, and outspoken player agent Allan Walsh took to Twitter to lambaste the league and Bettman on what a joke the Spotter system is.
Regardless of what measures the league takes to help protect existing players, there are over 4,000 retired hockey players whose health and well-being should be taken into consideration. Currently, over 100 former NHL players have filed a class-action lawsuit against the league, claiming that the league failed to provide proper oversight and medical care related to brain injuries.
The NHL, as an employer, should be held accountable to protecting their employees from harm. I think it is easy to forget that these stars of the ice are in fact employees earning paychecks and they should have the expectation that their employer will act in their best interest.
I applaud individuals like Daniel Carcillo and Allan Walsh who are not afraid to call out the league on public forums for the world to see. Yes, court proceedings and class-action settlements may send a message to the league, but I believe social media provides the true capacity for change if enough fans join in on the conversation and demand that the league looks out for its players.