NHL agent Alan Walsh argues that the increased speed of the post-lockout era is a big factor in the increase in concussions. That’s a fine point, but it’s also clear that there’s been a dramatic improvement in the general knowledge and awareness regarding head injuries, which is part of the reason the numbers are escalating.
Improved detection and treatment is a promising development for active NHL players, but what about former players who suffered from less informed days? Ex-NFL players are filing class-action lawsuits regarding concussions, so could that happen to the NHL?
The Globe & Mail’s Paul Waldie took an in-depth look at that subject. He found that while the players might have a case, there would be at least three significant obstacles in their path.
1. Hindsight: Sure, we know more about concussions now, but could former players really apply current knowledge to past events? Besides, if that information was out there, then why did the players soldier on?
2. Making a direct link between concussions and their health issues: Concussions aren’t the only cause of many problems retired athletes struggle with, after all. This point seems less challenging to refute, but the league could counter that it’s possible those concussions happened before they even entered the NHL.
3. Assumption of risk: Hockey is a big-time contact sport, after all.
The major counterargument for the first and third obstacles would allege that the players were misinformed by the league and its teams about the risks they were taking regarding concussions. My guess is that it might be tough to prove that the NHL deliberately misled players on this subject, though.
It’s heartbreaking to hear stories about former athletes suffering from memory loss, social problems and other issues related to concussions long after they stop playing. Sadly, it wouldn’t be surprising if the legal system found that such risks simply came (and come?) with the job, though.