The National Hockey League is facing renewed scrutiny into the lasting consequences that violence in its sport has on players. On May 1, the league’s commissioner, Gary Bettman, appeared at Canadian Parliament to address questions about head and brain injuries in hockey—a topic of growing alarm among current and former players, but one that Bettman has frequently dismissed.
Bettman maintained this stance throughout the hearing. But circumstances surrounding the meeting raise the question of how long the NHL will be able to plausibly deny the sport’s potential risk.
The group questioning Bettman was part of a parliamentary subcommittee on sports-related concussion. The subcommittee came together as attention to fighting and hits to the head in hockey has increased, coinciding with rising awareness of the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. It is now widely believed that the disease is linked to the repetitive blows to the head that are common in sports that involve athletes crashing into each other at high speeds.
Because nuanced research into CTE is still in relatively early stages, many scientists urge greater caution in protecting athletes’ brains. Players themselves have joined this call for better safety measures, especially following a string of high-profile early deaths over the past decade among former players whose brains were found to have evidence of CTE. In 2013, a group of former players, many fearing they already had or would develop the disease, launched a class-action lawsuit against the NHL for negligence toward head injury.