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Gary Bettman, looking to save NHL cash, plays dumb on concussions

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's reluctance to link hits to the head in hockey with a degenerative brain disease found in several deceased former players has reached Congress. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Gary Bettman isn’t dumb. Despicable, perhaps, but not dumb.

Saying that there is no link between concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, as the NHL commissioner did recently, is phony-baloney, and Bettman has to know it. But what he knows for sure is that he doesn’t want his financially challenged league paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in the future to former hockey players who need help feeding themselves.

Hence his refusal to acknowledge a link between concussions and CTE, a degenerative brain disease.

“The science just has not advanced to the point where causation determinations can responsibly be made,” Bettman wrote to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. He said that the consensus of the medical community is that “a causal link between concussions and CTE has not been established.”

Those sentiments might make him a hero among his bosses, the owners, but they should make him a heel among the people getting concussed while making money for those owners. That would be the players.

For years, the NFL pushed back against the idea that its sport caused long-term brain trauma. But a senior official finally acknowledged last year that there indeed is a link. That’s because A) the proof in the research is overwhelming and B) the league has enough money to buy half of the planet. It has agreed to pay about $1 billion to former players suffering the long-term effects of concussions.

The NHL, meanwhile, doesn’t need anything else cutting into its profits. In a 2011 report, Forbes magazine said that five teams – the Rangers, the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens, the Canucks and the Oilers – made $212 million combined and that the other 25 teams lost a combined $86 million. Nothing about that reflects financial health. A media rights deal with Rogers Communications that began in the 2014-15 season has helped pour money into the league.

But not enough money, apparently, to make Bettman see the light.