A pandemic, closed rinks, closed borders, increasing costs, declining revenues, logistical nightmares, lawsuits, and no path forward. The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) was facing an unprecedented crises before Covid-19. There now may may not be a way forward without major change and the loss of teams. In any case, the CHL is in crisis mode.
The 2nd of a 3 part look at the current crises.
- Less Money, More Problems: why the CHL may need a bailout.
- Lawsuits, Legal Fees, and Insurmountable Costs.
- How playing may worsen the problems.
Part 2: Lawsuits and Legal Fees
The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) is a national treasure. If it is threatened financially during unprecedented times, so a government bailout makes sense. Everyone is now enduring strange days, and supporting businesses and households is popular in Canada. A bailout for hockey teams is a reasonable idea. The CHL is in crisis mode.
If the teams could not keep the money, that would be a different matter. The CHL may well need to ask for a bailout. They may not get to keep it. Owners have insisted on the status quo in the face of problems for ages. Former players are responding with lawsuits, three so far.
The First Lawsuit: Minimum Wage
The first major case was not cheap to settle. Players asked to be paid under Canadian law for the time they put in at the rink. They argued junior hockey is akin to a job, given the amount of work and time required by their employers. To settle the $30 million suit, Rick Westhead of TSN notes the teams will be paying approximately $250,000 each. Insurance covered the rest for the 60 teams.
That settlement represents a significant amount of total team value. It gets worse considering the legal fees and subsequent rise in costs. Insurance rates will rise and stay high until their policy holder recovers their losses. That’s the cold reality of the insurance industry the hockey world must remember. This lawsuit alone could shake the CHL. Unfortunately, it was just the first.
Lawsuit #2: Concussion Lawsuit
Before the courts is a case that could prove even more expensive. While the minimum wage legal argument was perhaps difficult, the responsibility of teams to protect the youth in their employment seems more clear cut. Teams are responsible for their players. Teenagers cannot simply be disposable pieces.
Per the Hockey News, the lawsuit started by former WHL player James McEwan is looking back at 45 years worth of players across the CHL. That type of lawsuit could drag out before the courts for years. Regardless of outcome, the legal fees will be expensive.
Owners may be paying for actions well before they were involved. This may see them pay considerable penalties for events that happened long before they were involved in hockey. While allegations have not been proven in court, it seems plausible that former players have suffered the effects of concussions.
The minimum wage suit resulted in total costs approaching a quarter of team values. This lawsuit is bigger. Regardless of the outcome, the legal fees alone may prove beyond the means of many teams.
The QMJHL has already looked into banning fighting as this lawsuit has grown. It is being taken seriously. Again, it is not the last of the legal woes for the CHL in crisis situation.
Lawsuit #3: Hockey Culture on Trial With the Carcillo Case
The class action lawsuit spearheaded by Daniel Carcillo may prove to be the most explosive. Already specific allegations of abuse have come forward. As times go on, this case has slowly grown. It has not been pretty.
A statement from Koskie Minsky LLP said the action “…is on behalf of children aged 15-17 who were sexually and physically assaulted, hazed and otherwise abused while away from home and playing for CHL teams.” – Via CTV Teams had a responsibility to protect their players. If allegations are true, they failed.
Nothing has been proven in court, if they are it could be devastating. This type of incident has happened previously across the sports world. For example, the University of McGill is still dealing with the fallout from hazing allegations that first arose in 2005. That it repeated itself at McGill in 2017 despite a strong anti-hazing stance should not suggest that university had a particular issue.
The American Olympic Gymnastics team, the University of Ohio; these haven’t been completely isolated incidents for sports. Rather, this type of hazing has seemingly been an open secret for a very long time and is now being addressed.
The CHL cannot be immune. It hasn’t been. For example, previous stories like the Steve Downie incident in which he crosschecked Akim Aliu in the face during a team practice. This was after Aliu refused to participate in a hazing incident that mirror recent alleged incidents.
Recent allegations of hazing which included physical and sexual assault may force economic and social change across the CHL. Unfortunately, the reality is they need to play games to make money. Proceeding in this CHL in crisis may make everything worse.