NHL Head Injuries Suit a Head Scratcher: Falsely Reports Gordie Howe's Death, Misspells 'Sydney' Crosby, Talks Gladiator Movies

Maybe it was the way yesterday’s class-action lawsuit against the National Hockey League misspells the name of Sidney Crosby, arguably the league’s best player. Or perhaps it was how it reported the death of a very-much alive Gordie Howe from a neurodegenerative disease. But something—je ne sais quoi, as Claude Giroux might put it—just isn’t right about this most recent legal action against the NHL.

“Through the sophisticated use of extreme violence as a commodity, from which the NHL has generated billions of dollars,” the suit posits, “the NHL has subjected and continues to subject its players to imminent risk and head trauma and, as a result, devastating and long-term negative health consequences.” Quite reasonably, the opening paragraphs note that in contrast to international play and European leagues the NHL features fistfighting as an integral part of its game. The facts and logic go on hiatus for much of the remaining 109 pages.

Take, for instance, the discussion of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease believed to be linked to head trauma. “Conclusive studies have shown this condition [CTE] to be prevalent in retired professional hockey players who have a history of head injury,” the lawyers contend. Doctors admit that there hasn’t been a cross-sectional or longitudinal study attempted outlining the prevalence of the condition in society or more specifically in athletes or more specifically in hockey players. In other words, there hasn’t been a single study, let alone “conclusive studies,” of CTE in anyone. Scientists have looked at the brains of a few dozen football players. The lawsuit even obliquely affirms the scant information available on CTE in hockey players by noting that “neuropathologists confirmed CTE in four deceased NHL players who died after exhibiting signs of degenerative brain diseases.”

As damning as the litigation are the litigants. The suit namedrops NHL legends Sprague Cleghorn, Rocket Richard, and Chris Nilan, informing readers that Cleghorn injured three players in a Depression-era fight, the pride of Montreal sparked a “Richard Riot,” and Nilan earned the nickname “Knuckles.” But the players actually alleging damage from the game in this suit remain more obscure. Allan Rourke skated in 55 games for the Islanders, Hurricanes, and Oilers in three seasons spread out over six years. Defenseman Richard Brennan never played in more than a third of an NHL season during his 50-game career. Scott Bailey competed in 19 NHL games for the Boston Bruins—as a goalie. Though hardcore fans might recognize Tom Younghans or Michael Peluso among the plaintiffs, the lack of a Bobby Orr or Brett Hull, and the presence of anonymous players who once enjoyed a cup-of-coffee call-up in the league, raises credibility questions.

So does the Twilight Zone-moment on page 23, when a legal argument veers horribly off course into film criticism. “There is a glut of hockey dramas and comedies that use violence as their central thesis for their respective protagonists overcoming adversity during the game,” the complaint contends. One surmises that the attorneys believed that a judge would find fictional depictions of hockey players compelling evidence of the NHL’s reputation as real-life boxing on ice. From invoking movies about hockey, the not-so brief then shifts into a discussion of a movie about ancient Rome starring an actor who once starred in a movie about hockey.

“In Mystery, Alaska, Russell Crowe was the town sheriff and the team captain,” the suit says of one such hockey movie. “The very next year, the film Gladiator was released also starring Russell Crowe, which won the Best Picture Academy Award. Russell Crowe won the Best Actor Academy Award for his role in Gladiator as a bloodied Roman war veteran turned slave, General Maximus Decimus Meridus. In Gladiator’s opening scenes, Russell Crowe leads a Roman platoon in a battle against Nordic warriors. The Nordic warriors open their attack by sending Crowe a Roman soldier’s decapitated body on a horse, while holding up the soldier’s head. Ice hockey has some of its roots in Nordic tradition.”

Case closed. Hammer down the gavel and order the evil NHL to pay up.

From strange subjective assessments stated as fact, e.g., characterizing hockey as “the most difficult team sport in the world,” to common-sense duh passed off as damning revelation, e.g., the NHL “has been about exploiting the supreme athleticism of its players in order to generate revenue,” the suit about brain damage might have benefited from a few healthy brains.

If it makes dollars, it will make sense. Right now, seeing a wide-ranging discussion of the movie Gladiator in a hockey lawsuit leaves observers wondering if the attorneys might have been better served suing their law schools for the cost of their educations. 


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