The jagged scar across my cheek, my stubborn, stiff knees, my aching elbows, and my crooked fingers are all reminders of the many years I dedicated to the NHL. And these are all battle wounds I expected to walk away with. Hockey is a fast-paced contact sport full of tough guys and even tougher injuries.
These injuries are as typical as they were predictable. But other injuries — those involving our brains — were not, and retired NHL players are now dealing with the consequences.
As I see my fellow teammates suffering from unexpected neurological issues, I live with the reality that my time with the NHL came with a greater cost than I or my teammates could have ever imagined.
During my NHL career, I remember numerous hits that left me feeling dizzy and disoriented, and some that even knocked me out cold. Concussions were treated no different from standard shoulder injuries. If you could skate, you could get back on the ice.
As the captain of the Red Wings, I was always eager to return to the game and my team as quickly as possible, and the NHL was more than willing to encourage this by never treating or acknowledging the head hits.
Although my playing days are decades behind me, my former teammates and rivals remain close friends.
Unfortunately, during these almost-daily interactions it becomes clear that many are affected by headaches, depression and memory loss, or worse. I know of men who suffer from debilitating neurological diseases and are unable to afford the care they deserve.
That is why I felt the duty to join the concussion litigation against the NHL. To ensure that fellow retired players who desperately need care now are able to receive it, and others who may one day face similar problems have a safety net for the future.
According to reports, NHL players are five times more likely to suffer a concussion than NFL players, which is a disturbing statistic, given that the NFL has admitted that nearly 1 in 3 NFL players will contract debilitating brain disease.
As I look back on my 14-year career with the NHL, those odds terrify me. I worry about the financial and emotional burden it would have on my loved ones if I were diagnosed with one of these conditions.
The years of damage done through my time in the NHL cannot be reversed. But the league has a duty to take care of those who are hurting, and a responsibility to ensure future generations of players do not face the same consequences that so many of my former teammates have.
Reed Larson played 14 seasons in the National Hockey League as a defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings and several other teams, and was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.
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