The NHL’s legal problems are beginning to pile up in the form of class action lawsuits filed by former players accusing the league of encouraging its players towards on-ice violence all while knowingly concealing the long-term health consequences of that style of play.
Criticism over the level of violence in hockey is nothing new, and neither are the defensive responses from the NHL towards this criticism. Asking the justice system to participate in mediating the issue isn’t all that new either.
Faced with similar accusations, the NFL reached a billion dollar settlement with its former players and in the process managed to avoid having to admit guilt—which would have been legal suicide. In exchange, the players avoided having to prove that their cognitive problems stem directly from hits or injuries that happened while they played in the NFL—which is medically impossible to prove.
We will never remove all violence from sports like hockey or football, but that is no excuse to be complacent about it.
“The evidence strongly indicates that there is a conscious effort to sell violence in hockey to enrich a small group of show-business entrepreneurs at the expense of a great sport.”
Toronto Attorney William McMurtry
“If there is anyone who pays the kind of prices we charge to see twenty seconds of fighting, he’s got to be an idiot.”
NHL President John Ziegler
“He better bring a basket to take his head home in.”
North Stars coach Glen Somnor, referring to Bruins coach Gerry Cheevers leading up to the infamous 26 February 1981 game that resulted in 406 penalty minutes.
“It is difficult to find a time when hockey has not been under attack for fostering brutality, and more difficult to find any substantial moves on the league’s part to stop it.”
Sports Illustrated writer Ray Kennedy
“In the face of criticism over dangerous plays around the league, the NHL has quickly positioned itself as being tough on crime. It’s about time.”
ESPN writer Scott Burnside
“We had to announce Johan Franzen’s head injury in last season’s playoffs. Franzen comes back in the Dallas series and somebody takes a shot at his head, and then, we get into the Pittsburgh series and Gary Roberts takes a shot at his head.”
Red Wings GM Ken Holland
“I had a few [big hits]. It was my thing. Actually, a number of years back in a game against Pittsburgh, I stepped into a guy named Gary Rissling. I thought I might have killed him. I really did!”
Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens
“[If Air Canada decides] to do other things with their sponsorship dollars, that’s their prerogative, just like it’s the prerogative of our clubs that fly on Air Canada to make other arrangements if they don’t think Air Canada is giving them the appropriate level of service.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, responding to the airline’s threat to withdraw its sponsorship over increased on-ice violence.
“While deposed captain Eric Lindros hasn’t played in more than two months because of post-concussion syndrome, teammate Keith Primeau returned—either courageously or foolishly—to start the conference finals five days after having being wheeled off the ice in Pittsburgh following a concussion.”
Sports Illustrated writer Michael Farber
“We’ve got to mold a lineup that can take on a bunch of goons. I’m looking for guys you toss raw meat to and they will go wild.”
Maple Leafs owner Howard Ballard
“Listen, I’m tired of all this violence talk. When we first started out here at the Spectrum nine years ago we watched guys like Montreal’s John Ferguson pound our teeny little guys into the ice night after night. Why didn’t people scream then? We didn’t. We went out and got the best policeman there is, Dave Schultz, and as soon as we started to win, all these supposed purists began calling us animals and goons.”
Flyers owner Ed Snider
Hockey Hall of Fame