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Ice hockey players sue over brain injuries

ESPN staff
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Gary Leeman, Stanley Cup winner in 1993, is among the ten former players suing the NHL © Getty Images
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Ten former ice hockey stars are suing the NHL, claiming they haven't done enough to protect players from concussions.

The lawsuit seeks damages and court-approved, NHL-sponsored medical monitoring for the players' brain trauma and/or injuries, which they blame on their NHL careers.

It was filed in federal court in Washington on behalf of players who retired on or before February 14 of this year and have suffered such injuries.

The suit comes just three months after the NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle lawsuits from thousands of former players who developed dementia or other concussion-related health problems - and in an era when more attention is being paid to the damages of head injuries sustained in sports.

Among other things, the suit claims that:

* The NHL knew or should have known about scientific evidence that players who sustain repeated head injuries are at greater risk for illnesses and disabilities both during their hockey careers and later in life.

* Even after the NHL created a concussion programme to study brain injuries affecting NHL players in 1997, the league took no action to reduce the number and severity of concussions during a study period from 1997 to 2004. "Plaintiffs relied on the NHL's silence to their detriment," the suit says.

* The League didn't do anything to protect players from unnecessary harm until 2010, when it made it a penalty to target a player's head.

The lawsuit says: "The NHL's active and purposeful concealment of the severe risks of brain injuries exposed players to unnecessary dangers they could have avoided had the NHL provided them with truthful and accurate information and taken appropriate action to prevent needless harm."

It argues that the League continues to contribute to injuries today, by refusing to ban fighting and body-checking, and by employing "enforcers" whose main job is to fight or violently body-check opponents. The lawsuit also accuses the league of promoting a "culture of violence", in which players are praised for their fighting and "head-hunting" skills.

All-Star forward Gary Leeman, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks and St Louis Blues between 1983 and 1996, suffered multiple concussions and sub-concussive impacts during his career. Since his retirement, he's suffered from post-traumatic head syndrome, headaches, memory loss and dizziness.

The other former players on the lawsuit are Bradley Aitken (Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers), Darren Banks (Boston Bruins), Curt Bennett (Blues, New York Rangers and Atlanta Flames), Richard Dunn (Buffalo Sabres and Flames), Warren Holmes, (LA Kings), Robert Manno (Canucks, Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings), Blair James Stewart (Red Wings, Washington Capitals and Quebec Nordiques), Morris Titanic (Sabres) and Rick Vaive (Canucks, Maple Leafs, Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks).

In a statement, Vaive said players "were kept in the dark about the risks of concussions and many of the former NHL players are now suffering from debilitating head injuries from their time in the league. Hopefully this lawsuit will shine a light on the problem and the players will get the help they deserve."

The NHL's deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a release: "We are aware of the class action lawsuit filed today in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of a group of former NHL players. While the subject matter is very serious, we are completely satisfied with the responsible manner in which the League and the Players' Association have managed Player safety over time, including with respect to head injuries and concussions. We intend to defend the case vigorously and have no further comment at this time."

This article originally appeared on ESPN.com

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