The NHL is taking their battle with Boston University to court, The New York Times has reported. Last month, Boston University rejected the NHL’s request for their research on the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE.
Now, it seems the NHL is looking to get that information another way as on Monday, the league filed court documents at a United States federal court in Minnesota. The research the NHL is hoping to obtain was done by neurology experts who examined more than 200 athlete brains for CTE.
This is just the latest step in the NHL’s ongoing battle with a class-action lawsuit brought down by more than 100 former players. The players are suing the NHL in a negligence lawsuit, saying the league did not do enough to protect them or make them aware of the dangers concussions pose.
The lawsuit has gotten so big that Dr. Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist that inspired the movie Concussion, has stepped in after the NHL hired fellow neuropathologist Dr. Rudy Castellani, a denier of the link between concussions and CTE.
It’s a messy situation, and one that has a lot of moving parts and pieces. The Boston University battle has made the issue even more complex, so here’s what you need to know.
Does the NHL believe CTE and concussions are related?
Here is commissioner Gary Bettman’s latest statement on concussions, made back in July 2016 in a written response to a United States senator.
“The science regarding C.T.E., including on the asserted ‘link’ to concussions that you reference, remains nascent, particularly with respect to what causes C.T.E. and whether it can be diagnosed by specific clinical symptoms,” Bettman wrote.
He added: “The relationship between concussions and the asserted clinical symptoms of C.T.E. remains unknown.”
The NFL, which battled and settled its own famous concussion lawsuit, took back its “it’s inconclusive” stance in the spring of 2016.
What information does the NHL want from Boston University?
The New York Times piece from Wednesday also highlights the documents and data the NHL wants from Boston University in court.
The N.H.L. has asked Boston University for research materials, unpublished data and, among many other things, the C.T.E. research center’s information on the people who donated their brains for study — brains that were donated in many cases on the condition of anonymity and are protected by medical privacy laws. The league also wants medical records of the deceased and interview notes which would include discussions with their families, even though most of the athletes never even played hockey.
Hand it all over, the league said, so it can “probe the scientific basis for published conclusions” and “confirm the accuracy of published findings.”
It’s old news that the NHL seems to want anything and everything to do with the CTE research, even information that doesn’t pertain to hockey players. In fact, only five professional hockey players’ brains were used in the Boston University study, and all five were diagnosed with CTE according to a university spokeswoman in the Times piece.
Even still, the information the NHL is asking for seems excessive, especially the information pertaining to the athletes’ families and medical records. It’s not unreasonable to see why Boston University rejected the request.
Is there more to Boston University’s rejection?
Yes, actually. In order for Boston University to release their research, they “would have to cease working for months.”
The New York Times interviewed Stephen Hecht, a scientist who has worked on the connection between smoking and cancer, and he said this about the NHL’s request.
“It’s hard enough to do good, solid science because it’s more than a full-time job,” he said. “So when you have an industry, like the tobacco industry, or the N.H.L., making all kinds of additional demands, it will essentially shut you down. Their hope is that you just go away.”
So, what does the NHL want to do with the research?
Well, it’s hard to tell. The New York Times quotes that the league is looking into the information to “confirm the accuracy of published findings.” That’s the first time the NHL has had an interest in doing its own research into the link between CTE and concussions.
There’s also the implication of The New York Times piece that the NHL is effectively blocking Boston University from continuing their research if their request is approved. All in all, it doesn’t read as a good look for Bettman and the league.
Is Boston University the only one with this research?
They’re one of a handful of groups doing research, which includes teams from the University of Western Ontario, the University of North Carolina, and the National Institutes of Health. But, Boston University is the clear leading researcher on CTE and it’s not that unreasonable that the NHL would ask them in the midst of their legal battle on this very subject.
The science of CTE itself is only in its beginning stages too, and that research is really in it’s “infancy” when it comes to athletes and this type of head trauma.
Is money a factor in this as well?
Potentially. The NHL has said before they have no interest in reaching a settlement in the concussion lawsuit. We theorized before that the reason the NHL doesn’t want to settle because the NFL, valued at almost $75 billion, is paying $1 billion in their settlement. The NHL, on the other hand, is valued at just $4 billion.
Much like we said before as well, this battle feels like its only going to get worse as time goes on. The NHL could just be trying to survive as a company in the face of a potentially crippling lawsuit, but pieces like this one from The New York Times fuel the fire that something more sinister is lurking underneath.