Gary Bettman (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)
A U.S. federal judge ruled Tuesday that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman must testify in regard to a lawsuit from former players who allege the league didn't properly protect them from or inform them about the effects of head injuries.
A U.S. federal court judge Tuesday ordered that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman must offer testimony in a lawsuit by former league players who allege they've been adversely affected by head injuries suffered during games.
The group of players – whose numbers have grown to approximately 60 (including notable names Bernie Nicholls, Butch Goring, Joe Murphy and Gary Leeman) since the lawsuit first was filed in November of 2013 – accuse the league of not adequately protecting them from or informing them of the effects of concussions. Attorneys for the former players contacted the NHL in late February requesting a time and location to question Bettman, but the league rejected the request because, it argued, any information the commissioner might offer could be gleaned from other sources. The players' lawyers then went before a judge asking that Bettman be compelled to testify prior to July 1 of this year.
In an eight-page ruling released late Tuesday, Judge Susan Nelson ruled Bettman may be deposed in July, but no sooner. She also ruled Bettman "possesses unique or special knowledge" relevant to the lawsuit and pointed to several media interviews he conducted between 1993 and 2015 demonstrating his insights into the NHL's efforts to deal with head injuries.
“We are pleased the Court has denied the NHL’s motion to delay the deposition of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, finding that he ‘possesses unique knowledge concerning concussion injuries’," the players' co-lead counsel said in a statement released after the ruling. "This is particularly timely given the Commissioner’s recent statements continuing to deny the long-term risks of repetitive brain injuries. We look forward to deposing the Commissioner so retired players can learn the full extent to which the League deliberately ignored and concealed this information.”
The former players behind the lawsuit allege the NHL failed to protect them from head injuries prior to the 1997 creation of a head trauma study committee – and that, even then, the committee's findings weren't adequately shared with players. The league contends it has acted appropriately and that players were aware of the risks involved in the sport.