The NFL settled its lawsuit, brought by former players alleging the league conspired to hide and downplay the effects of concussions, for a very good reason: it prevented the potential release of years’ worth of documents and intraoffice communications that might have revealed the truth, or at the very least painted it in a terrible light. The NHL has reached no such settlement in its own lawsuit brought by former players. Here come the emails.
The NHL has turned over more than 2.5 million pages of internal documents to the players’ lawyers, but has fought to keep them sealed from public view. The players and media have argued that the document should be made public, and a federal court in Minnesota has generally agreed, ordering them unsealed piecemeal. The latest cache was obtained by CTV, which petitioned the court to release the documents, and they contain emails among the NHL’s top executives discussing the role of fighting, head trauma, and substance abuse.
The first chain dates to September 2011, when Brendan Shanahan, then the NHL’s senior VP and chief disciplinarian, forwarded a Globe and Mail story about fighting in hockey to Commissioner Gary Bettman. It came on the heels of the deaths in quick succession of three enforcers, Derek Boogaard (overdose), Rick Rypien (suicide), and Wade Belak (treated by authorities as a suicide, though Belak’s family believe it was accidental). All three had suffered numerous brain injuries; all three struggled with depression and substance dependence.
Bettman replied to Shanahan and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.
“An interesting question is whether being an NHL fighter does this to you (I don’t believe so) or whether a certain type of person (who wouldn’t otherwise be skilled enough to be an NHL player) gravitates to this job (I believe more likely).”
This is the million-dollar question with fighters, isn’t it? The biography of Boogaard and the autobiography of Jordin Tootoo provide mixed answers. Boogaard certainly took up fighting because he had no other choice if he wanted to make the NHL, while Tootoo, a skilled young forward, says he was pushed into it by a coach. Tootoo came from a background of substance abuse and violence; Boogaard did not. Boogaard specifically believed fighting and hockey were responsible for his spiraling addiction to painkillers; Tootoo, still active in the league, refuses to blame hockey.