Ken Dryden laid it all out in an op-ed last week in the Washington Post. He listed the "enforcers" in the National Hockey League--the tough guys, usually defensemen--who died premature deaths owing to what was diagnosed after their passing as CTE, a neurological degenerative disease. The league, led by its commissioner, Gary Bettman, denies any connection between the slamming of players into the boards and hard falls, much less the fights that sometimes make you think this is where boxing has regenerated, and this brain disease that has been identified in the NFL as causing early deaths.
Dryden has been a Canadian cabinet minister, member of parliament, and Hockey Hall of Fame member, after his storied career as a multi-year Stanley Cup winner as the star goalie of the Montreal Canadiens. Before that, I saw him play as Cornell's goalie on the 1967 NCAA championship team. Known at the Big Red as "the Big Kid," his height and size helped make one of the all-time great stars tending goal.
His calling out the disgraceful denial by the hockey league stands in contrast to another Cornell alumnus, indeed a graduate of the same N.Y. State School of Industrial and Labor Relations there from which I graduated, the aforementioned commissioner of the NHL, one Gary Bettman. This mouthpiece for the hockey owners previously attracted attention for utilizing his knowledge of labor relations to engineer a lockout at the NHL a few years ago.
The owners cynically abandoned that season to beat down the players' efforts to win the compensation they deserve. Whenever I hear someone argue that the players, who are the ones who perform on the field and without whom there would be no game, much less a league, receive too much money, apparently in comparison with the owners, who glom a whole lot more, I recall one marvelous summation of the situation: "Who ever paid for an admission ticket to see an owner?"
The players are the ones who have shortened careers in their sports, especially because of the physical injury suffered so often by those in hockey and football, as well as shortened lives. The NFL is being dragged kicking and screaming into doing something about the frequency of players dying owing to CTE. The process of bringing both leagues into some sort of recognition and compensation for this tragedy will not be pretty but it is critical that it proceed--in the NHL through a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
Those who bemoan the likelihood that the games will have to change should consider the advice to his nephew from the Count, the title character in Giuseppe de Lampedusa's classic, The Leopard: "For things to stay the same, things will have to change."