Deputy commissioner Bill Daly (l.) and commissioner Gary Bettman (r.) in 2012.
Emails unsealed by a U.S. federal court in Minneapolis revealed NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in September 2011 that fighting in hockey leads to more brain injuries, including “personal tragedies,” according to a TSN report.
Daly was responding to an email from commissioner Gary Bettman, sent to Daly and then-player-safety executive Brendan Shanahan. Bettman was commenting on a Globe and Mail article Shanahan sent the other two with the headline “Getting rid of hockey’s goons.” Three NHL enforcers, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, all died during a span of less than four months in 2011.
“Do you remember what happened when we tried to eliminate the staged fights?” Bettman emailed to Daly and Shanahan on Sept. 3, 2011, according to TSN. “The ‘fighters’ objected and so did the pa [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).”
“I tend to think its a little bit of both,” Daly responded in an email the NHL sought to keep sealed. “Fighting raises the incidence of head injuries/concussions, which raises the incidence of depression onset, which raises the incidence of personal tragedies.”
Bettman then replied that he believed “the fighting and possible concussions could aggravate a condition. But if you think about the tragedies there were probably certain predispositions. Again, though, the bigger issue is whether the [NHLPA]would consent to in effect eliminate a certain type of ‘role’ and player. And, if they don’t, we might try to do it anyway and take the ‘fight’ (pun intended).”
Shanahan then wrote that the previous NHLPA regime would be against that. He also said that while fighters used to aspire to rise above the fourth line, now those players train to be fighters.
The fighters used to ingest alcohol or cocaine to deal with their role, Shanahan said, but “now they take pills. Pills to sleep. Pills to wake up. Pills to ease the pain. Pills to amp up. Getting them online.”
The discussion contradicts the NHL’s public stance on the dangers of concussions. Last year, Bettman tried to downplay the link between concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE.) This month at the NHL general managers’ meeting, after NFL safety executive Jeff Miller admitted a link between CTE and football, Bettman said “I think it’s fairly clear that playing hockey isn’t the same as playing football.”
After former players filed suit against the NHL in September 2013 alleging the league covered up knowledge of the long-term effects of head trauma, the NHL hired Edelman Berland, a market-research company, to find out how fans perceive violence in the NHL compared to the NFL.
In response to Michael Berland, the market-research company’s chief executive, NHL executive vice president of communications Gary Meagher described the NFL’s concern for player safety as “smoke and mirrors”
Meagher also wrote “The nhl has never been in the business of trying to make the game safer at all levels and we have never tried to sell the fact that this is who we are… The question is: should we be in that business and if we were, what could we possibly achieve without throwing millions of dollars at education.”
He later added that the NHL doesn’t see selling safety “as an important part of our mandate.”