Gary Leeman et al. vs. The National Hockey League
In the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Civil case no. 13-CV-1856
November 25, 2013
1. This action arises from the pathological and debilitating effects of brain injuries caused by concussive and sub-concussive impacts sustained by former NHL players during their professional careers.
2. Every blow to the head is dangerous. Both repeated concussions and sub-concussions cause permanent brain damage. During practice and games, a player can sustain close to one thousand or more hits to the head in one season without any documented incapacitating concussion. Such repeated blows result in permanently impaired brain function…
16. The NHL caused or contributed to the injuries and increased risks to Plaintiffs through its acts and omissions…
17. The NHL persists in this conduct to date by, among other things, refusing to ban fighting and body checking and by continuing to employ hockey players whose main function is to fight or violently body check players on the other team (”Enforcers”).
18. The time has come for the NHL to elevate long-term player safety over profit and tradition…
50. CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], a catastrophic disease once associated only with boxers, results when a toxic protein, Tau, accumulates in the brain, kills brain cells, and leads to severe depression or dementia. It can only be confirmed through an autopsy.
51. In January 2010, the Boston University School of Medicine Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (“BUSM”) announced for the first time that a former hockey player, New York Ranger Reggie Fleming, had been diagnosed with CTE.
52. Subsequently, Rick Martin, best known for being part of the Buffalo Sabres’ French Connection, was diagnosed with CTE. Martin was the first documented case of a hockey player not known as an Enforcer to have developed CTE. Martin is believed to have developed the disease primarily from a severe concussion he suffered in 1977 while not wearing a helmet.
53. Within months of Martin’s death, the deaths of four hockey Enforcers — Derek Boogaard from a combination of too many painkillers and alcohol; Rick Rypien, an apparent suicide; Wade Belak, who like Rypien had reportedly suffered from depression; and Bob Probert, best known as one-half of the “Bruise Brothers” with then-Red Wing teammate Joey Kocur, all of whom had a record of fighting, blows to the head and concussions — led to more concerns about CTE and hockey. BUSM doctors subsequently confirmed that Boogaard and Probert had CTE…
85. For decades, the NHL has nurtured a culture of violence. Films such as Slapshot, The Last Gladiators, Goon, Youngblood and others reflect this NHL-inspired culture. The public statements of Don Cherry and the use of highlights on such sites as www.hockeyfights.com and his video series Don Cherry’s Rock’em, Sock’em Hockey are further examples of this violence-centered culture promoted by the NHL.
86. NHL Films, an agent and instrumentality of the NHL devoted to producing promotional films, has created numerous highlight features that focus solely on the hardest-hits that take place on the ice. These featured videos are marketed and sold to advance the NHL’s culture of violence as entertainment.
87. In addition, NHL-sponsored video games include fighting and vicious body checking. Video game players also add virtual Enforcers to their team rosters to ensure their players will not be intimidated by the simulated violent tactics of the opposition.
88. This is part of the overall culture in which NHL players are encouraged to play despite an injury, in part because failure to do so creates the risk of losing playing time, a starting position, demotion to the minors and the abrupt end to a career.
89. Within this culture, the NHL purposefully profits from the violence they promote.
90. This attitude has existed for decades and continues to the present date, with players lauded for their ”head hunting” and fighting skills…
187. From 1997 through June of 2010, the NHL continued to withhold these material facts. During that time period, the NHL voluntarily funded its concussion program but no reports were produced and no rule changes regarding concussions were made and that failure to change and the NHL’s silence, except for statements that more data and research were needed, misrepresented to then current and former NHL players and the general public that there is no link (or an insufficient scientific link) between brain injuries in NHL activities and later-in-life cognitive injury, including CTE and its related symptoms…
Plaintiffs demand a trial by jury on all issues so triable in this Complaint.