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Legal Fiction: NHL Lawsuit Points to Nonexistent 'Conclusive Studies'

Legal Fiction: NHL Lawsuit Points to Nonexistent 'Conclusive Studies'

The new lawsuit filed against the National Hockey League alleges that scientists have proven that chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease found in several dozen deceased contact-sports athletes, afflicts a great number of NHL retirees. But the leading CTE researcher in Canada balks at the idea that any such studies exist.

“Conclusive studies have shown this condition [CTE] to be prevalent in retired professional hockey players who have a history of head injury,” claims the brief filed Thursday in federal court by the law firm Robbins, Gellar, Rudman, and Dowd on behalf of nine former players.

“No, no, that’s just not the case,” Dr. Charles Tator, founder of the Canadian Sport Concussion Project at the Toronto Western Hospital, tells Breitbart Sports. “The evidence in football players is just fragmented. We don’t for instance how many football players are going to get this condition. In hockey, we are that much farther behind. We don’t have a clue–not a clue. That’s the purpose that all the study that’s going on in our center.”

The 110-page legal brief, filed last Thursday in the Southern District Court of New York, alleges that the NHL hid brain-injury costs of hockey from its players. The CTE claims in the name of science that clash with existing science represent just one point of controversy within the class-action suit. The complaint immediately raised credibility concerns by spelling the name the NHL’s marquee player, Sidney Crosby, wrong and falsely reporting the death of Hall of Famer Gordie Howe from a degenerative brain disease. Several of the plaintiffs played less than a season in the NHL. But given the centrality of brain injuries to the legal action, overcoming a demonstrably baseless assertion on this score may be harder for the litigants than overcoming a “Sydney” Crosby typo or the bizarre, non sequitur discussion of gladiator movies in relation to hockey.

The Boston University research group that has looked at the most brains from former NHL players has reported anecdotal observations on a handful of hockey CTE cases but has neither attempted nor performed any cross-sectional or longitudinal studies involving CTE on any group of athletes. This stems in part because of the inability to identify the disease in the living and in part because it’s only been about a decade since a scientist first discovered the disease in a football player–and a much shorter period since researchers found the disease in hockey players and other team-sports participants. Rather than “conclusive studies,” as the class-action lawsuit contends, Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy reported examining the brains of just four deceased NHL players as late as the end of 2012.

“The way things go with the US groups they put out a media release immediately,” Tator explains. “We would know about it. I think it’s going to take a while before we know how much brain degeneration takes place in hockey.”

To that end, the Canadian Sport Concussion Project seeks pledges for brain donations from hockey players (www.solveconcussions.ca) but thus far they’ve had better luck obtaining commitments from former Canadian Football League players. “In hockey, we don’t have a similar arrangement with the NHL Players’ Association,” Dr. Tator explains. “They didn’t sign up with us. Our experience is really now football and we have a couple of other smaller sports–rugby, we have a couple of cases but not hockey. We have told people that we’re interested, but no brain donations to date to our center.”

The lawsuit’s claim of the prevalence of the disease in “retired,” i.e., alive hockey players, clashes with the limitations of medical science that possesses the ability to diagnose the disease only upon autopsy. A Breitbart Sports investigation into fall 2013 claims of a breakthrough enabling doctors to diagnose CTE in the living discovered that the scientists making the boasts not only owned the company standing to profit from the “advancement,” but that they had earlier that year in academic papers all affirmed that CTE could only be diagnosed upon autopsy.

Though the NHL lawsuit fails in substantiating some of the specifics, Dr. Tator points out the validity of the general idea that many athletes surely suffer from the effects of their playing days. “We just analyzed about 130 cases of post-concussion syndrome in hockey players, but they’re all living,” Tator informs. “We found that post-concussion syndrome can make a mess out of a lot of hockey players–both amateurs and professionals. Not everyone gets over the acute concussions.”

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