Concussion lawsuit against NHL faces murky future

Some former players offering vocal defence of the league

Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Rick Vaive adjusts his tie as he enters a courthouse in Newmarket, Ontario. Vaive has withdrawn from a class-action lawsuit that claims the NHL has not done enough to protect players from concussions. Michelle Siu / AP Photo
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It is no surprise that a group of some 200 former NHL players are suing the league over concussion injuries, following the lead of their pro football counterparts, who recently accepted a US$765 million (Dh2.8bn) settlement from the NFL.

However, their lawsuit may be played out over rougher ice.

For starters, there already has been unsympathetic backlash from colleagues. Recently retired Jeremy Roenick, who estimates he suffered 13 concussions in his career, told the Associated Press he would not join the claimants.

“They can go after the league they craved to be in since they were little and paid their salaries,” he said. “I played … knowing there was a lot of risk … that my health and my life could be altered in a split second.”

One litigant, Rick Vaive, disengaged himself from the action, saying he did not realise the suit blamed the league for neglect.

The NHL’s vigorous defence will deflect medical responsibility toward the players union. It will argue that most players compete in hundreds of games long before they get to the NHL.

The NHL does not have the same shameful public track record as the NFL, which for years openly challenged the science of long-term concussion damage. The NHL was the first sports league to require baseline testing of players’ brains in 1997 to assist in the diagnosis of head injuries.

The NHL is not without responsibility, but determining culpability is not as easy as A-B-C.

Or N-F-L.