The NHL is having a rough few months. They just announced that they won’t be going to the Olympics, even though their fans and players want them to. They have franchises in trouble. Everybody seems to be complaining about the playoff format. Their new expansion team just got overshadowed by a bigger league. This year’s playoff race has turned into a bust, with basically all the spots wrapped up before the final weekend. And it’s already sounding like the next lockout is all but inevitable.
And believe it or not, none of that comes close to being the league’s biggest problem right now.
That’s because the league is facing a major threat in the form of a lawsuit over its handling of concussions. The slow-moving suit has been winding its way through the courts for a few years now, and there’s no immediate end in sight. But some recent developments have pushed it back onto the front page. And it hasn’t been a good look for the NHL.
So what exactly is this lawsuit, and what does it mean for the NHL?
It’s a complicated issue with a lot of moving parts, but at a high level, this is about former NHL players who say they suffered concussions during their playing days, whether the league and its teams did enough to ensure player safety at the time, and what sort of responsibility (if any) the league should have to those players today.
Much of this resolves around a degenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Most experts agree that CTE is related to a history of concussions and brain injuries, and can lead to all sorts of symptoms late in life, including dementia, aggression, depression and suicidal thoughts. Some of the stories of former athletes living with symptoms are gut-wrenching.
A growing list of former NHL players are suing the league, claiming that they suffered concussions during their careers – in some cases, multiple untreated concussions. Some players claim they’re already experiencing CTE-like problems, while others are concerned that they’ll face them in the future. The list began with 10 players filing suit in 2010; that list quickly grew to over a hundred. The case is now a class action suit, meaning it could include any ex-player who was suffering from concussion-related problems.
As often happens, this case has moved slowly. But we recently found out that a judge told the parties last year that she wants the case to go to trial in 2017, in some form or another.