In July, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman maintained his stance on concussions and their link to the neurological disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
“From a medical science standpoint, there is no evidence yet that one necessarily leads to the other. I know there are a lot of theories, but if you ask people who study it, they tell you there is no statistical correlation that can definitively make that conclusion.”
Gary Bettman CTE Denial Drawing Congressional Attention
Anyone who has taken a statistics class knows that there is a huge difference between correlation and causation, and that the two aren’t equal. Bettman’s stance that there isn’t sufficient proof that concussions are the sole causation of CTE and always lead to contracting the disease is valid. His statement that there is no correlation between the two, however, is flat-out wrong.
Bettman’s science-denial is starting to attract attention from people in high places, namely, the United States House of Representatives.
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) used the term “denial” when speaking about Bettman and CTE in an interview, and has taken action to address the issue along with some of her colleagues.
Four members of the House’s Committee on Energy and Commerce (all Democrats; Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, Gene Green of Texas, Diana DeGette of Colorado and Schakowsky) have penned a letter to Bettman’s office, requesting further information on what the NHL is doing to prevent and treat concussions sustained by players.
The Committee requested a response by Oct. 24, and league spokesman Frank Brown stated that the league intends to respond in time. According to another report, the letter also uses the term “denial” in talking about the NHL’s stance on the correlation between concussions and CTE.
The letter reportedly poses seven questions to Bettman about the frequency of concussions in the NHL, its protocol for treatment, the reasoning behind rule changes that have been made over previous years, and the NHL’s strategy to improve player safety. The letter also reportedly compares the NHL to the National Football League in an unfavorable light.
This is the same kind of pressure that played a role in creating policy change in the NFL on the issue of concussions. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce also probed Roger Goodell and the NFL on this same topic, and has recently made allegations that the NFL has manipulated research on the link between concussions and football.
As far as the desired result, Schakowsky made that clear:
“We want (the NHL) to acknowledge there is a risk. It looks like Bettman is still in denial that there is any link. There are retired players who are anxious to get the NHL to take some responsibility and that’s really what this letter is designed to do – to get some answers and accountability.”
Former Players and CTE
Schakowsky and others have familiarized themselves with the plight of former NHL players now dealing with symptoms of CTE. She and others have met with former NHL players Dale Purinton and Dan LaCouture along with Paul Montador, the father of former NHL defenseman Steve Montador. The younger Montador died in February and his autopsy revealed extensive signs of CTE.
Spotters and Rule Changes
Perhaps the pressure is already having the desired effect. On Oct. 11, just prior to the beginning of the 2016-17 regular season, the NHL updated its concussion protocol. The update included hiring new staff to act as “spotters” who have the authority to remove a player from a game for evaluation for symptoms of a concussion.
In addition, the update creates a fine schedule for teams which fail to remove a player from game play for concussion-like symptoms. There are still issues with this updated protocol, however.
These spotters are league employees, and the medical staff who will be doing the in-game evaluations are team employees. Obviously, if these people intend to remain in their positions, they will act in the best interest of their employers. Having players on the ice is in the league’s and team’s best interest. Additionally, these new spotters are not watching the games rink-side, but via television.
To be thorough, there are in-arena league spotters, and on-ice officials are also able to remove players from games for evaluation. These individuals have much more to focus on in addition to possible concussion symptoms exhibited by each and every player on the ice, however.
Mandatory Time Off
The league’s full concussion protocol lists no mandatory period of time for which a player who exhibits concussion-like symptoms must be kept out of play, and leaves the assessment of the player completely at the whim of medical professionals employed by its member franchises.
Bettman and the NHL might be forced to take further action on this issue, beginning with acknowledging a link between concussions and CTE. That could prove financially harmful to the league and its member franchises, as lawsuits seeking damages from the league are already in litigation.
There’s a new player in this drama, however, and that might prove to be more troublesome than the former players seeking damages. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce is one of the most powerful committees in the United States Congress, and it means business.