In 2011, top NHL officials discussed the link between fighting, concussions and the deaths of three former NHL players, unsealed emails reveal.
The emails have been made public as part of a lawsuit filed against the league by former players, who allege the NHL did not properly address the dangers of repeated head injuries.
In September 2011, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly sent an email about “personal tragedies,” a reference to the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, to then-head of discipline Brendan Shanahan and commissioner Gary Bettman.
“Do you remember what happened when we tried to eliminate the staged fights?” Bettman wrote back to Shanahan and Daly. “The ‘fighters’ objected and so did the [NHLPA]. Eliminating fighting would mean eliminating the jobs of the ‘fighters,’ meaning that these guys would not have NHL careers. 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).”
Daly replied that “fighting raises the incidence of head injuries/concussions, which raises the incidence of depression onset, which raises the incidence of personal tragedies.”
Shanahan responded with, “The previous regime at the [NHLPA] definitely would fight it. But I thought their current position on illegal checks to the head is that it should encompass ALL contact, If we keep this simply about concussions and brain injuries then how can they argue against it.”
Shanahan added in his email that NHL enforcers have resorted to using drugs such as cocaine or abusing alcohol to cope with their style of play.
Lawyers for the players’ lawsuit say the emails contradict the league’s public stance on hockey and brain injuries, which is that a link between the two does not exist.
“The selective released leaking of documents out of context may cause some people to scratch their heads, a couple of other people maybe to, for a brief moment, be a little embarrassed about salty language or the like,” Bettman said about the impending release of the emails in January. “But I'm very comfortable with our record.”