Hockey Players' Battle Against Concussions Moves into Courtroom

Dorian Martin Health Guide

    We've back into the courtroom in order to protect athletes from concussions and the potential cognitive decline that is often associated with these brain injuries.


    Ten former players in the National Hockey League (NHL) have filed a class-action lawsuit that the league hasn’t provided enough protection against concussions. According to Fox News, the players, including All-Star forward Gary Leeman, are seeking damages as well as NHL-sponsored medical monitoring for brain trauma and injuries caused by their participation in the sport. This lawsuit comes on the heels of the settlement by the National Football League which pays $765 million in order to settle lawsuits brought by thousands of retired NFL players who developed dementia and other cognitive issues due to concussions from the sport.

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    The NHL lawsuit claims that the league’s refusal to ban fighting and body-checking as well as its sanctioning of “enforcers” who fight or violently body-check opponents contributes to brain injuries. Furthermore, the lawsuit describes a “culture of violence” that is promoted by the NHL, which also recognizes players who use excessive physical force.

    In my estimation, this lawsuit is one of many steps that need to be taken in order to change the culture. Previously, the NHL actually banned blindside checks to the head prior to the 2010-11 season and then expanded the rule to make all hits to the head illegal. However, those two rules may not be enough to protect players.

    That’s because concussions still are a regular part of the sport at the professional level. Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times reported on a new study provided a telling look at whether concussions during NHL games increased after the NHL banned hits on the head.  In this study out of the University of Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, three seasons of NHL games were analyzed to measure the effects. One part of the analysis focused on games that were played in 2009-10, which was prior to the institution of the new rules protecting player’s heads. The researchers also looked at games played during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, which were after the rules were instituted. Interestingly, the number of NHL concussions or suspected concussions was actually lower in 2009-10 (before the rule was instituted) than in 2010-11. Furthermore, there was no measurable difference in these head injuries between the 2010-11 and the 2011-12 seasons.

    Furthermore, the researchers found that more than 64 percent of these concussions were caused by bodychecking, while only slightly more than 28 percent of concussions and 36 percent of suspected concussions were linked to illegal incidents.  Furthermore, a penalty was only issued in 28 percent of the actions that led to concussions or suspected concussions.

    “We conclude that rules regulating bodychecking to the head did not reduce the number of players suffering concussions during NHL regular season play and that further changes or stricter enforcement of existing rules may be required to minimize the risk of players suffering these injuries,” the researchers stated.

  • It’s important to follow what is happening in the professional league because so many young players want to be there and will emulate what they see. However, saner heads are starting to prevail at these levels. For instance, fighting is forbidden in hockey played in colleges and universities in the United States. Furthermore, checking has been banned in Canada’s pee-wee hockey, which involves players who are between 11 and 12 years of age.

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    So what other advice is there related to concussion. I’d like to point to a statement on USA Hockey’s website: “When in doubt, sit them out.” That echoes a statement that was made at a 2010 hockey summit: “A player who suffers a concussion and returns to action puts himself at a greater risk of suffering greater injury if they suffer a second concussion.”

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Balukjian, B. (2013). Hockey still plagued by concussions, despite rule changes. Los Angeles Times.

    Donaldson, L., et al. (2013). Bodychecking rules and concussion in elite hockey. PLOS One. (2013). Former players sue National Hockey League over concussions.

    Thompson, H. (2010). Medical and hockey communities join together to address the issue of concussions. USA Hockey.


Published On: November 26, 2013