Todd Ewen was the classic NHL "enforcer" during his 11 seasons in the league. Translation: He "fought in almost every one of his games," writes Nicolas Pollock in the Atlantic. The sad footnote: Ewen committed suicide in 2015 at age 49. His widow, Kelli, blames the NHL, saying that he suffered brain damage—chronic traumatic encephalopathy—from all those fights because the league encouraged the violence and disregarded the risks to players. She has just filed suit. The details:
- The suit: "To this day, the NHL continues to downplay and deny the long-term neurocognitive effects of repeated head hits and the link between head hits and CTE, leading former NHL players to believe that the neurocognitive symptoms they suffer from are not a result of their head hits during their time in the NHL," asserts the suit, per NBC News.
- The denial: The suit seems to be correct in characterizing the league's position. Last week, Commissioner Gary Bettman questioned a direct link between CTE and repeated blows to the head when speaking before a parliamentary panel in Canada, reports Sportsnet. "I don't believe there has been, based on everything I've been told—and if anybody has information to the contrary, we'd be happy to hear it—other than some anecdotal evidence, there has not been that conclusive link." In the hearing, Bettman pushed back against the idea of banning head contact in the NHL.
- About Ewen: You can watch a 15-minute video documentary about his life and career here, also by Pollock of the Atlantic. Before his death, Ewen began acting out of character, his behavior marked by depression and anger. He would even get lost close to home.
- Diagnosis: Upon his death, widow Kelli sent his brain to a Canadian neuropathologist named Lili-Naz Hazrati, who concluded that he did not have CTE. Hazrati is affiliated with the NHL, and Kelli got a second opinion from renowned neuropathologist Ann McKee, who concluded that Ewen did have CTE. In the interim, the league had cited the initial, negative diagnosis to refute claims of danger.
- At odds: "Todd's death can no longer be exploited to justify the NHL's complete lack of concern over head hits and violence on the ice," says the lawsuit. But Bettman says the suit is without merit: "There are some accusations that have been made about the diagnosis and we'll be dealing with that in due course, because I think there are some allegations that have been made that have absolutely no support."
- Another fighter: Another NHL enforcer, the now-retired Nick Boynton, made headlines last year with this first-person post in The Players' Tribune in which he talks about the physical and mental toll his life as an on-ice thug took on him.
(Derek Boogaard was another NHL tough guy diagnosed with CTE
after his suicide.)