NHL Commissioner declines to admit link between concussions and CTE

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Football has become synonymous with concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. However, other sports have found themselves embroiled in political and legal fights regarding head injuries and long-term health consequences.

In hockey, the Commissioner of the NHL has declined to admit a link between concussions and CTE. In response to written questions from Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Gary Bettman stressed that the medical research remains in an early phase and argued that lawyers and the media have presumed a connection and other medical facts without sufficient scientific support.

“The science regarding CTE, including on the asserted ‘link’ to concussions that you reference, remains nascent, particularly with respect to what causes CTE and whether it can be diagnosed by specific clinical symptoms,” Bettman wrote, via the New York Times. “The relationship between concussions and the asserted clinical symptoms of CTE remains unknown.”

As explained by John Branch of the Times, Bettman “repeatedly blamed the media for spreading the fear of CTE, and accused the plaintiffs in the concussion case for a public relations assault on the topic.” Bettman pointed out that the brain of former NHL player Todd Ewen, who committed suicide in 2015 at the age of 49, did not show signs of CTE.

“Ultimately, the most concerning aspect of the current public dialogue about concussions in professional sports (as well as youth sports) is the implicit premise that hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of individuals who have participated in contact sports at the high school, collegiate and/or professional levels are not only at a high level of risk for, but actually more than likely to develop, a degenerative, irreversible brain disease (i.e., CTE), and that they should be informed as such,” Bettman wrote. “The NHL chooses to be guided on this very serious subject by the medical consensus of experts examining the science, not the media hype driven in part by plaintiffs’ counsel.”

Regardless of the science, it’s obviously not beneficial for the human brain to absorb repeated injuries. Bettman’s letter, which if written by the Commissioner of the NFL would surely result in much greater attention and criticism, echoes a point that many have made: The scientific research still has a long way to go regarding questions like the prevalence of CTE, the causes of CTE, the symptoms of CTE, and the consequences of CTE.

Plenty of former pro football and hockey players believe that serious cognitive problems for them are not simply possible but inevitable; the medical evidence has yet to reach that point. Regardless of the specific nature and degree of the risk and the specific nature and extent of the potential harm, it’s known that head injuries should be taken seriously, and it’s assumed that too many of them can lay the foundation for long-term health problems.

Even with that knowledge, people are still choosing to engage in sports and other activities that entail a risk of head trauma. At some point, the medical evidence will provide much greater information about the long-term health risks. For now, the vague-but-generally-accepted (and by all appearances accurate) notion that concussions can cause cognitive problems later in life is not deterring many adults with the physical gifts necessary to play professional sports from doing so.

16 responses to “NHL Commissioner declines to admit link between concussions and CTE

  1. The NHL doesn’t have the money to pay out like the NFL. There are no victims, only volunteers.

  2. It’s hard to get someone to understand something, in this case concussions and CTE, when their livelihood depends on them not understanding it.

  3. Just when you think Goodell is the worst of the major sports commissioner Bettman comes storming back to take the lead.

  4. Saw Concussion for the 1st time last night. Good movie not great. Didnt reveal anything that i didnt know already. Drove home the point i already knew, is that the NFL is run by scumbags like Goodell and their corrupt paid off gravy training liars.

  5. ” “The NHL chooses to be guided on this very serious subject by the medical consensus of experts examining the science,…”

    Classic disingenuous word salad and spoken just like the tobacco companies re: smoking and heart disease and cancer or Exxon/Mobil and certain politicians re: climate change. In other words, find a shred of uncertainty (which always exists in science) and claim “doubt and uncertainty by scientists”…usually the ones they are paying for the studies.

  6. Sure there seems to be a link however with so much science today…lots of big science has many flaws. However the common theme from peer review is not as clear as media presents it.
    Journal of Neurosurgery. Apr 2016 / Vol. 40 / No. 4 / Page E15
    “While sports-related TBI can have lasting consequences, there is a paucity of evidence on the long-term sequelae and their pathophysiology. It is premature to conclude that playing contact sports will lead to CT”
    and there are many peer reviewed that are saying the evidence isnt as clear cut or scarcity of evidence is problematic. I personally believe the number of concussions is most likely there biggest predictor. That being said “Correlation does not imply causation” may or may not be case, only time will tell

  7. that’s ok all the pro hockey and football players should just take up a sport that doesn’t have this problem, like boxing! You know the sport where the objective is to intentionally hit your opponent in the head and have him suffer a concussion so you can win. Funny no one seems to care about the effect on boxers. I wonder why?

  8. OK…OK… I get it ! let me tell you a little story. my son came to me when he was nine and asked if he could play hockey instead of football. i calmly took him by the shoulders, tasseled his hair and led him into the kitchen where, right there, in our family home, i threatened to boil his feet in oil if he ever said he wanted to play hockey instead of football. he is 15 now and sucks at football but at least he never played boring goddamn hockey. thank you, thank you ladies and gentlemen ! ps…go islanders !

  9. I think the best advance regarding concussions is players not immediately returning to the field of play. What the rest of science will reveal in the future, no one knows
    I do know that history is filled with examples of situations where we thought we knew for sure something was right and it turned out to be not true. In the mean time peoples careers were destroyed, businesses were bankrupted. Two cases come to mind…We knew for sure that breast implants caused cancer in women, turned out to be not true. We knew for sure that cerebal palsy was caused by bad practices on the part of obstetricians…not true, oh and by the way some people still think autism is caused by vaccinations

  10. Wow, many posts gone since last night.

    Probably Hockey will follow the NFL and start reducing “dangerous plays”

  11. Nothing wrong with what he said and it isn’t false. There are still way too many unknown variables. Sure there is a correlation but correlation is not causation. Pro athletes used to party hard, do drugs, drink a ton, etc. All of those things have an impact on the brain. Combined with repeated brain trauma it could possibly be a factor in causation. Many current pro athletes still live a lifestyle similar to that. What about viewing other professions, genetic types, etc?

    There are so many more tests that need to be done before making the determination that Pro Sports causes CTE.

  12. Let me claim the title of ‘Captain Obvious’ for the next few minutes.

    Neither the NHL nor the NFL commissioner would EVER admit the STUPENDOUSLY obvious connection between concussions and CTE.

    Gee – I wonder why.

    Captain Obvious – I’m out of here.

  13. To me it’s like smoking and cancer. You can deny smoking causes cancer because a significant number of people smoke their entire lives and don’t get cancer but that’s not how it works. For the smokers who do get cancer, it is almost invariably caused by the smoking. Smoking causes cancer (even though not in everyone).

    Same with CTE. Players who have had concussions and still go on to live long and productive lives are not evidence that concussions don’t cause CTE. For players who develop CTE, it’s almost invariably caused by concussions. Concussions cause CTE (even though not in everyone).

    Commissioners won’t admit it, though, because it’s going to be expensive and billionaires like to keep their billions.

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