Health Care / Medicine, Sports

5 Crazy Takeaways From The NHL Concussion Suit

The National Football League has sort of, kind of, not really addressed its concussion problem by paying former players a pittance and then doing absolutely nothing about the culture of the sport. I guess that’s not totally true. The Denver Broncos went out of their way not to hit anybody during the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Hockey — Canada’s pastime and America’s after thought — has largely escaped scrutiny. It’s not that people overlook the violence in the sport, it’s just people mistake the occasional fisticuffs for the most extreme “violence” in the sport. As opposed to plays like, say, this. As you watch that guy leveled and smashing head first into the ice, remember that unlike football, these people by and large didn’t wear helmets until the 80s.

One concussion lawsuit was filed back in November. That one was boringly straight-forward.

Now comes a second lawsuit sprinkled with errors and crazy talk. Perhaps it’s a performance art piece on the horrors of concussions.

Let’s check out the 5 craziest takeaways from the new NHL suit….

The tragedy of this complaint is that the argument that the NHL itself actively participated in creating violent conditions on the ice leading to chronic brain damage is important and the complaint does a good job of alleging a history of injuries and neglect from the league. But no one is going to pay attention to that. This is why lawyers (good ones anyway) are such sticklers for detail. Even tiny, seemingly unimportant errors in legal documents can obscure the whole thrust of a sound argument.

1. The Late, Great Gordie Howe.

119. Gordie Howe (“Howe”) is one of the greatest NHL players ever. Howe played in the NHL from 1946 until 1980. Howe’s accolades may never be surpassed, even by fellow NHL Hall of Fame inductees. However, Howe was nicknamed “blinky” due to the lasting effects of head trauma he suffered during a game. In 2009, Howe died from the neurogenerative disease known as “Pick’s disease.”

It’s hard to believe the tragic nature of Howe’s death. Mostly because Howe is still alive.

Yes, Gordie Howe is still with us. Howe’s wife, Colleen, unfortunately succumbed to Pick’s disease — presumably not caused by concussions suffered on the ice — in 2009, and the complaint conflates that tragedy with Howe’s injuries as a player.

Unfortunately, this is a prime example of a factual error overshadowing the more important point. While the media will talk about the complaint’s single-handed effort to kill off Mr. Hockey, they’re not talking about how Howe’s long career did, in fact, take a severe toll on his brain:

On March 28, 1950, in the opening game of the playoffs, Howe’s career, to say nothing of his life, almost ended. Toronto’s Ted Kennedy avoided a check by a charging Howe, who skidded headfirst into the boards. Rushed to the hospital with a fractured skull and severe brain damage, he was placed on the critical list. By relieving the pressure on his brain, surgeons saved Howe. However, the injury left him with a facial tic, and his teammates would call him “Blinky.”

I mean, he got hit so hard he got a facial tic. That might have raised a flag with someone.

2. One of the Plaintiffs Is a Hanson Brother.

Well, sort of. In the Paul Newman classic Slap Shot, the Charlestown Chiefs catch fire when they add three talented goons known as the Hanson Brothers. They did stuff like this:

Two of the Hanson Brothers in the film were played by Steve and Jeff Carlson. Both Steve and Jeff were professional hockey players themselves. Fun fact: Steve Carlson is one of only two hockey players to be teammates of both Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. Anyway, in the 70s, Steve and Jeff played for the Minnesota Fighting Saints along with their brother, Jack Carlson, who was not in the movie because the Edmonton Oilers picked him up just prior to filming.

Jack Carlson is one of the nine former players serving as a named plaintiff. Here’s a picture of my #20 Jack Carlson Minnesota Fighting Saints sweater.

I considered taking a “selfie” with it on, but selfies are kind of dumb.

3. Meh. He’s No Ovechkin.

Here’s a point heading from the complaint.

The Head Trauma to Sydney Crosby Further Exposes the NHL’s Failure to Warn and Adequately Protect Against the Imminent Risk of Head Trauma and Its Devastating and Long-Term Negative Health Effects

Crosby is arguably the most recognizable star in the league. So it’s a little surprising that the complaint managed to misspell “Sidney.”

4. One Time, One Guy Did a Thing, And Then Did Another Thing, So… Give Me Money!

The complaint details the glorification of hockey violence in popular media representations. Movies like Slap Shot and Goon place the violence center stage (even though part of the point of Slap Shot is that the violence is a buffoonish spectacle, but whatever). Here’s where the complaint takes this line of argument:

58. There is a glut of hockey dramas and comedies that use violence as their central thesis for the respective protagonists overcoming adversity during the game. Notably, in Mystery, Alaska, Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe leads a makeshift team of hockey players from an obscure Alaska town in an unlikely and violent hockey game against the NHL’s New York Rangers, as depicted by one screenshot from the movie trailer.

59. In Mystery, Alaska, Russell Crowe was the town sheriff and the team captain. The very next year, the film Gladiator was released also starring Russell Crowe, which won the Best Picture Academy Award. Russell Crowe won the Best Actor Academy Award for his role in Gladiator as a bloodied Roman war veteran turned slave, General Maximus Decimus Meridius. In Gladiator’s opening scenes, Russell Crowe leads a Roman platoon in a battle against Nordic warriors. The Nordic warriors open their attack by sending Crowe a Roman soldier’s decapitated body on a horse, while holding up the soldier’s head. Ice hockey has some of its roots in Nordic tradition.

The… hell? Crowe also played Noah. Hockey causes flooding!

Seriously though, someone needed to edit this thing before it went out the door and stop every argumentative thread just two or three paragraphs before they were taken too far.

Speaking of which…

5. Q.E.D., My Friends.

61. In the classic horror film, Friday the 13th, the evil villain dons an ice hockey goalie’s mask.

Much like Jason Voorhees, I have no words.

The full complaint is available on the next page if you want to peruse for yourself. Which you should, because when its not talking crazy, the complaint levels some serious allegations that the NHL has, and continues to create, an unsafe environment for players despite knowledge of the risks….

(hidden for your protection)

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