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This blog examines the difficult and concerning issue of player concussions, focusing on a review of the ongoing consolidated litigation by ex-players against the NHL relating to the long-term effects of concussion and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (“CTE”).
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The pathologist on call at the Allegheny Medical Coroner’s office the day Webster died was Dr. Bennet Omalu.4 Dr. Omalu, conducted several tests on Webster’s brain, in the hope of discovering what was causing his symptoms. What Dr. Omalu found would change medical and sports history. Dr. Omalu described Webster’s brain “as one of boxers, very old people with Alzheimer’s disease or someone who had suffered a severe head wound.”5 Dr. Omalu published his findings and named his discovery CTE.
A medical diagnosis of CTE can only be made after a posthumous examination of the brain. Over the next ten years, several former NFL and College football players were diagnosed with CTE, including, Terry Long, Andre Waters, Tom McHale, Owen Thomas, Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling, and Junior Seau, among others.6
After the discovery of CTE and the multitude of deaths associated with the disease, former NFL players filed a lawsuit against the NFL. Additionally, the U.S. Congress launched a former investigation in the NFL and its handling of players suffering from concussions.7
These events not only impacted the NFL but had ramifications throughout the sporting world.
CTE and the National Hockey League
The summer of 2011 was one of the most tragic periods in the history of the NHL. That summer saw the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Leafe Wade Belak in a span of four months. Boogaard, Rypien, and Belak, all played the role of enforcer during their NHL careers. An enforcer, in hockey terms, is a designated player given the responsibility and task of defending the other players on his team from cheap shots and other dirty plays. Enforcers tend to accomplish this task by playing a very physical game and specialize in the art of fighting. The three players also shared many of the common symptoms of CTE.8
It is reported that it is common for those who suffer from CTE to become depressed and resort to the use of drugs and alcohol to cope with the disease.9 Boogaard, Rypien, and Belak all suffered these symptoms towards the end of their lives.10
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- Could incidents of concussion in sport be an issue of negligence?
- Moore & Bertuzzi officially reach an agreement: NHL violence avoids spotlight for now
- The legality of boxing: a punch drunk love?
- The knock out blow: how Australia is tackling concussion & neck injuries
About the Author
Ryan is an American attorney at Lake Law Group, LLC and a sports consultant at Beyond the Playbook. He works extensively on ice hockey, soccer, baseball, basketball and Olympic movement issues. Ryan is also an Adjunct Professor at St. John’s University School of Law.
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