NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who has stated in the past that there is no proven link between repeated concussions and the degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), declined to respond Monday when asked if he still holds that opinion.
CTE has become a major issue for the NHL and the NFL. At least seven NHL players have been diagnosed with CTE, which has been definitively identified only after death. A class-action lawsuit filed by more than 100 former players alleges that the NHL concealed information about the risks of head trauma in the sport.
More than 100 NFL players have been diagnosed with CTE. In 2016 the NFL agreed to a $1 billion financial settlement with retired players after a high-ranking league official acknowledged the existence of a link between repetitive head trauma and CTE.
“I’m not going to start another news cycle. There’s nothing new on the subject,” Bettman said during a news conference before the Vegas Golden Knights hosted the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, sitting beside Bettman, added, “This is not the commissioner’s view. It’s the science view. So all we’re doing is reiterating what the scientists have concluded, which is there’s not enough information to draw that link.”
Ann McKee, a neuropathologist who heads the CTE Center at Boston University’s School of Medicine and is considered an authority in the field, has diagnosed CTE in several NHL players. “The NHL is really in the dark ages,” she recently told the Canadian TSN network. “It’s denial, obfuscation and the usual tap dance. You ask any 7-year-old and they will tell you CTE is real. The NHL is being ridiculous. It’s almost laughable.”
Speaking on a wide range of topics, Bettman said that the success of the Golden Knights — whose historically strong season has set records on the ice and outpaced rivals’ merchandise sales — proves “the magic of sports.” He said owners of other teams have not pushed back against giving prospective future expansion teams the same generous terms that were given to Vegas in the draft that stocked the team’s roster. Those favorable terms have been credited with launching the Golden Knights to unforeseen heights, but that doesn’t account for the adept management of general manager George McPhee, who made several forward-thinking trades and found gems among players who might not have gotten chances with their previous teams.
Bettman also said the league had no regrets over deciding not to take a break and allow players to represent their homelands at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February. However, he repeated the league’s intent to stage exhibition games in China, which is the site of the 2022 Winter Olympics, and it’s entirely possible that the NHL will let its players participate in that tournament. Also, Bettman said the expansion application of a Seattle-based group will not be discussed at the Board of Governors meeting that is traditionally held during the Final. He said he expects Seattle’s application to be the NHL’s 32nd team will be taken up at a meeting this fall or early winter.