What the NHL can do to protect its players from concussion symptoms

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday that he wants the league to work with the NHL Players Association and the National Hockey League Players Association to address concussions and the long-term effects of long-lasting brain injuries, in the wake of the NFL’s announcement of a six-game suspension of Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison. 

Bettman made the comments at a news conference following the conclusion of the NHL’s three-day collective bargaining agreement, which expires Friday. 

The league’s first-ever labor agreement, signed in 1994, calls for the owners to pay players a guaranteed minimum of $10 million a year, and the league and the union have been working toward a deal in recent months.

The NFL announced Friday that Harrison would not be suspended by the league’s four-game ban for his role in the Aug. 6 game in which Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell suffered a concussion, but he will be eligible to return to the league for a fourth season after being released.

Bettampf said the league has been working to find a way to help players who have sustained concussions, and to improve medical care for those who suffer a second or third concussion. 

“The players are not the only ones impacted by these injuries,” Bettampf told reporters at the news conference.

“We have to be able to provide them with the best medical care possible, to make sure they’re not going to continue to have long-standing health issues.” 

The NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allows the league, through its team owners, to fine players for the first three games of a season, with the potential for up to five games for repeat offenders. 

In the past, the league was willing to work toward reducing penalties, such as a $20,000 fine for players who did not cooperate with a concussion assessment, but the NFL has always sought more control over its players’ future. 

Players are also prohibited from participating in any team activities and are subject to a 10-game roster suspension. 

Last year, the NFL fined the San Francisco 49ers $15,000 for the second time in four years for violating its ban on concussions. 

After Harrison was suspended, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that they had agreed to a four-year suspension with an option for a fifth. 

Harrison, who is one of five NFL players who suffered concussions during his time in the league since 2009, is the latest player to be suspended, joining former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer, who was suspended for a third time this season for an unrelated incident, and linebacker Chris Borland, who suffered a second concussion in December.