It's one of the fastest, most violent sports there is, yet for years, hockey has largelyescaped scrutiny on the issue of head injury, skating under the radar as the issueunderstandably consumed the world of football.
Well, now that the NFL hasfinally admitted the obvious, that playing the gamecan be hazardous to the brain, the National Hockey League has earnedthe dubious distinction of being the only leaguestill denying what most considerestablished science.
Worse yet, that denial is putting the world's best hockey playersat deadly risk.
Our David Scott reports.
Hockey has lostanother former player far too young.
Long-time NHL defenseman Steve Montador was found unconscious Sunday at his home in Mississauga, Ontario.
DAVID SCOTT: When Steve Montador died in 2015 with a cocktail of drugs in his system, he was just 35 years of age, recently retired from the NHL, and expecting his first child within days.
It was overwhelming.
whole day and afterwardsis pretty much a blur, for sure.
SCOTT: They say it's um.
one of the hardest thingsin life to bear, to bury a child.
I don't know how to explain it.
And I don't want to, because it's.
You don't wish it on anyone.
SCOTT: Paul Montador believeshis son's ten year NHL career.
ANNOUNCER: Steve Montador! .
which included 19 concussions by one count, had ravaged Steve's brain, and near the end had forever changed his son from a guy who lit up the room, to a recluse with little impulse control and severe memory loss.
He was not the same personthat he was ten years before or five years before.
The difficult part for himand for those close to him was you didn't know whetherit would ever get better.
SCOTT: It only got worse.
And after he died, Montador was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the brain disease that causes memory loss, depression and dementia and is often accompanied by substance abuse.
Paul, in the end, what killed your son? What brought him downwas concussions.
And the fact thathe had too many and he came back and playedand got more.
CTE ultimatelywas his downfall.
SCOTT: But if Paul Montador thinks hockey killed his son, the NHL begs to differ.
After doctors announced that Steve Montador's brain showed extensive evidence of CTE, in a statement the league said they do not agree that this establishes any link between Steve's death and his NHL career.
In fact, commissioner Gary Bettman insists there is no proof that hockey can lead to CTE at all.
The evidence isn't thereto support the cause and effect.
SCOTT: As we sit here today, um, Mr.
Bettman and the NHL uh, take the public positionthat there is no link between hockeyand its head hits and CTE.
What do you say about that? The earth is flat.
SCOTT: The NHL's position appears to run counter to a mountain of scientific evidence.
Not to mention conventional wisdom that getting hit in the head hard and often can be hazardous to one's health.
It's a position that critics say is not just delusional, but also dangerous.
A position they saythat's left NHL players exposed to potential tragedy.
When inaction comeswhen action is possible, then that's what inexcusable.
-The longer it takes.
the more men will be harmed.
This is life-affecting.
SCOTT: Ken Dryden was once the poster boy of the NHL.
A six-time Stanley Cup winnerand an icon of Canadian hockey, what Joe DiMaggio was to American baseball.
But in recent years, he's come to believe that his beloved game is in crisis, as the reports of dead hockey players found to have had CTE are beginning to add up, and while scores of his old colleagues are now suing the league, claiming brain injury and a greatly increased risk of CTE.
If you've gota bunch of players that are experiencingthese symptoms, significant depression, problems with anxiety, terrible problems in termsof memory, you might say to yourself, “You know.
maybe there's somethingwe should do about this.
” SCOTT: The NHL is not the first major sports league to deny a link to long-term brain damage.
For years, the National Football League argued that there was no proof that its game could cause CTE.
A position that earned the league scrutiny from the media.
NARRATOR: Frontline investigates what the NFL knew and when they knew it.
as well as Hollywood.
Tell the truth.
SCOTT: Eventually, the NFL finally admitted the link before Congress.
Miller, do you think there is a linkbetween football and degenerative brain disorderslike CTE? The answer to that questionis certainly “yes”.
SCOTT: But the NHL, and Commissioner Gary Bettman, have refused to follow suit.
I think it's fairly clearthat playing hockey isn't the sameas playing football.
And as we've said all along, we're not going to getinto a public debate on this.
The fundamental thing is that trauma to the braindoes not care if that trauma is coming fromfootball, hockey or boxing.
They're all the same.
Blaine Hoshizaki has analyzed thousands of hockey collisions and published a string of papers on the effects of these hits on the human brain.
He says he can quantify the amount of trauma that any given hit in a hockey game delivers to the brain.
In this hit, for example, Hoshizaki will map out the collisionand accurately reconstruct it.
by taking into account speed, mass, angle and point of impact.
Then he'll calculate the strain on brain tissue which reflects the killing of brain neurons.
You sum up in– in–in this conclusion, you write, “It is my opinionthat an average NHL player has likely receiveda head impact in each game sufficient to cause permanentinjury to brain tissue.
” Any time you damage a neuron, uh, it's permanent.
Neurons do not grow back.
So, the more neurons you lose, the more you are at risk for changes to your lifestyle.
Things like depression, things like forgetfulness and on and on it goes.
SCOTT: So, elbow to the head, shoulder to the head, head to the head, fist to the head, stick to the head, head to the ice, head to the boards, all of that amounts to what? They're traumatic impacts.
They're damagingthe neural tissue.
And then over time, they contribute to things like chronic traumaticencephalopathy, CTE.
They'll contributeto other neurological conditions that affect people's lives.
SCOTT: Ken Dryden was so disturbed by the death of Steve Montador, that he devoted two years to writing a book about him, and what he callsa life diminished by NHL hockey.
In terms of somebody like Steve, not fair, not right, and not necessary.
SCOTT: Dryden is now calling out the league for continuing to permit head hits like this, which are legal, and fights like this, which are penalized, but still accepted by the NHL as part of the game.
This doesn't haveto be the way it is.
What is the action the NHLhas failed so far to take that give all of hockeya way out of this? No hits to the head, no excuses.
It's not whether it'sintentional or accidental.
Forget about all of theseartificial distinctions.
They do not matter.
The only thing that matters is the player got a blowto the head.
SCOTT: And Dryden isn't the only hockey legend calling for the NHL to take action.
Eric Lindros was once considered the greatest player of his generation.
Bigger, stronger, and faster than anyone else on the ice.
He was often the one dishing out the punishment.
But even his NHL career was cut short due to hits he took, like this one.
ANNOUNCER: Lindros makes the move! -ANNOUNCER 2: Oh! -ANNOUNCER: And Lindros is hammered down to the ice by Scott Stevens! And Lindros remains down on the ice as.
I remember trying to cutthrough the middle of the ice and I saw Johnny on my right side, and all I was trying to do was just poke the puck to him.
And I got.
yeah, I get decked.
Hit hard there.
Shoulder to head, rotational acceleration.
Yeah, and there's a lot going onin that one.
(LAUGHS) SCOTT: It was his sixth concussion in just over two years, and he would never be the same again, on the ice or off.
What were your symptoms? I was tired a lot.
I used to hate crowds.
Never used to hate crowds.
I was fine and.
And I started to really haterooms with a lot of people.
What about emotionally? I was furious, because here I went from beinga really good player.
to being just a shadowof myself.
Doesn't matter how big you are.
isn't any safer because.
you're being strong and fast, right? No.
SCOTT: Lindros left the NHL resentful.
I wanted nothing to dowith the game.
I was sour.
I was angry.
SCOTT: But he says he also left motivated to pursue a new calling, sounding the alarm on concussions in hockey.
On the very day he retired, Lindros gave five million dollars of his own money to the medical facility that helped him with his concussions.
Money will improve the livesfor not only athletes, weekend warriors, but all patients.
SCOTT: And last winter, along with Montreal Canadiens' doctor David Mulder, he asked the NHL to fund research to protect its players.
We thought thata million dollars a team, thirty-one million dollars, was.
was the right number.
Modest start fora four-billion-dollar league.
And what did they say? You know, we didn't heara whole lot back.
SCOTT: In fact, to date, the NHL has not donated any money to any of the major centers of concussion study in North America.
We can do better.
Yeah, we can.
We can do a lot better.
SCOTT: The NHL says it has taken action by relying on so-called spotters at games to get concussed players off the ice.
But these spotters don't have to be medical experts and are often just team coaches.
Time and again, they failed as brain-injured players are kept in the game.
COMMENTATOR:Hunwick reeling after that hit.
SCOTT: For example, this body check last season smashed the victim's head into the glass, but NHL spotters left him in the game.
BLAINE HOSHIZAKI: This is a case where we would hope.
that the spotters would recognize that these are high-energy impact, so he should be broughtoff the ice.
-It did not happen, no.
-And that's common?-Very common.
SCOTT: Had Steve Montador received fewer concussions, or been pulled from the ice more often, so he could properly recover, Paul Montador believes his son might still be alive today.
How was it possiblewith what we already knew then, that Steve was stillbeing cleared to play? After suffering fiveconcussive hits in the period of a few weeks? I'm the wrong personto ask that question.
I don't thinkthere's a good answer, so if you– if you find one, let me know.
SCOTT: Montador says he doesn't understand why the NHL's owners have not intervened.
They can't all be sociopaths.
They have to.
have some compassionfor.
the people involved, but they certainlydon't demonstrate it, and that's.
that's–that's beyond me, and it's been said by somethat Gary Bettman has the.
Holds all the cardsand he controls that group.
Have you heard from Mr.
We received some con–condolences from uh, a number of teams, for which, uh, Steve played, but I've not heardfrom Mr.
SCOTT: And Ken Dryden is also waiting to hear from Gary Bettman, five months after personally presenting him with the very first copy of his book, which calls for a complete ban on head hits in hockey.
If he's the decision maker, then this book needs to be writtenfor that decision maker.
How has he responded? I don't know, I mean, you know, he hasn't responded to me.
-He has not?-No, he has not.
SCOTT: Nor would Garry Bettman, or anyone else at the NHL speak to us for this story.
For Eric Lindros, speaking out for concussion research is about helping future players, he says.
But it's also about coming to terms with his own future, and the chance that he might have to contend with CTE one day.
-Must be impossible notto think about.
“What could be up there, waitin' for me down the road?” If CTE is coming, I'd like to know about it.
And let's do what we can to.
to get ahead of it.
SCOTT: With so many ex-players suing the NHL, Bettman's hand may only be forced by a loss in court.
Paul Montador has now joined the lawsuit on behalf of his dead son, to keep the pressure on the NHL to change the game, which he says is what Steve had wanted near the end.
The last lunch that we had, three weeksbefore he passed away, he said a coupleof very telling things.
He said, “Hockey would bea better game without fighting.
” -SCOTT: Hm.
-He said, “We should get rid of headshots, and at the end he said, “Maybe I shouldhave played baseball.