NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will be deposed tomorrow regarding an ongoing lawsuit about player safety in regards to concussions, despite motions to protect Bettman from deposition, and even trying to dismiss the lawsuit altogether. The NHL had argued that Bettman shouldn’t immediately be compelled to answer questions about concussions and brain injuries to players, but the courts found that Bettman ‘possesses unique or special knowledge relevant to this lawsuit.’
The suit against the NHL was filed in November of 2013, alleging that “the NHL failed to warn its players of the short and long-term effects of repeated concussions and head trauma, failed to adequately care for its players after they received such injuries, and promoted and glorified unreasonable and unnecessary violence leading to head trauma.” The suit against the NHL was filed just three months after the NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle lawsuits from thousands of former players who suffer from dementia and other concussion-related issues.
Players of high-contact sports are at risk for a slew of injuries while playing, with one of the most common and severe being concussions. Even after injuries have healed and athletes can return to play, the risk remains of contracting serious brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma. CTE can begin years, or even decades, after the last concussion or end of active athletic involvement, and can cause memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, paranoia, impulse control problems, depression and aggression. Also called “punch drunk” syndrome, CTE has been linked to the possibility of domestic violence in the NFL.
Some players don’t even get a chance to recover, further exposing them to the risks and complications associated with frequent injury. Scott Parker, a former Colorado Avalanche enforcer and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the NHL, claims former head coach Bob Hartley would bully him into playing by threatening being benched or even released from the team.
“He was always just degrading me. Not to be a (wimp), but he was a bully. And he could be because he was in a position of authority. … He would call me a (expletive), say that Hershey (the Avs’ former minor-league affiliate) would be my next stop, where I’d be ‘smelling chocolate fumes all day long.’ I remember I thought I had a broken foot and told him about it, and he called me a (expletive) and said Hershey would love me,” Parker told The Denver Post.
Years after retiring from the NHL, Parker says that everyday life can be a more fearsome opponent than the people he fought while playing. He suffers from frequent seizures and has to wear sunglasses indoors at risk of a headache being triggered from light. He likens the noise in his ears to hundreds of sirens sounding at once and lists and pictures on his phone serve as his memory.
Parker originally said that he didn’t want to join the lawsuit, but after recalling the treatment from former coaches and the staggering difficulties of everyday life from what he estimates could be 20-25 concussions, Parker joined five months after the original filing. Nearly two years later, the suit has grown from originally having nine plaintiffs to now having 60, with the possibility of thousands more if the suit became class-action.
Bettman’s testimony could be crucial to the plaintiffs. The “smoking gun” according to the former player’s lawyers is a comment from 2011, in which Bettman said, “Maybe it is (dangerous) and maybe it’s not. We don’t know that for a fact.” While the NHL has countered with talking points about monitoring player safety and defending fighting’s role in the game, that comment could be crucial in the plaintiff’s case.