Monday, January 28, 2013

End Of NFL (NHL) As We Know It?

1) Yes, this space is NOT usually used for sports other than ice hockey, but an event is occurring in the NFL which could have significant impact on the future of the NHL, and ice hockey in general, as we know it.  The issue specifically is the law suit being brought against the NFL ( and helmet manufacturers) by the family of the late, great Junior Seau. For non NFL (Professional American Football) readers, Junior Seau was a dominant defensive star for almost 20 years.  Seau starred for 13 seasons for the San Diego Chargers before being traded to the Miami Dolphins, where he spent three years before four final ones with the New England Patriots. Seau retired from pro football in 2010. Seau committed suicide with a gun shot wound to the chest in 2012 at the age of 43.

2) So what does the tragic death have to do with the NFL, and more importantly to our readers, the NHL?  Simple, the same issues that the Seau family contends caused him to take his life are also found in NHL players, current and past.  Studies by the National Institutes of Health concluded that Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of chronic brain damage that had also been found in other deceased former NFL, and more recently some NHL players. Many might recall the late Derek Boogaard who died of an apparent drug over dose 2 years ago as well as Bob Probert.  Both players' autopsy's confirmed they had CTE. It can only be diagnosed with post mortem brain evaluation so diagnosis is difficult prior to death. No doubt many players (current and former) from both leagues are walking around with this ailment.  What is not clear is how many are at risk from premature death, whether from natural causes or in the cases of Seau and Boogard, self inflicted cause brought on by sever depression; another possible side effect of CTE.

3) So how can these tragedies change/end the game we know?  Simply, IF the Seau (and for certain other suits to come) are successfully adjudicated by the plaintiffs, resulting in significant awards to leagues the respective leagues will have no choice but to significantly change the way the game is played. Already the NFL and NHL are trying to reduce head trauma with rules changes, but there is no way the can significantly remove repetitive head injury without changing the fundamental way the games are played.  Offensive and defensive linemen for example seldomly suffer from acute brain injury, but because of the nature of their position have repetitive micro trauma, likely every game they play. How can the NFL prevent this without changing the game as its been played since its inception?  Can the NHL end all body contact outside of unintentional collisions without alienating fans?  Surely successful litigation here would be a disaster for each league and fans alike.  Sorry, we are as sad to hear about the Seaus and Boogards as anyone, but whats next, suits against shoulder pads because debilitating degenerative arthritis sets in earlier with these athletes? Sorry, you accept the big money, you accept the risks.  These are not unwitting dupes. Hopefully juries will see through this money grab and not have their heart strings decide the verdicts that could ruin professional contact sports forever more.

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