CFL commissioner refuses to admit link between football and CTE

In his state of the league address Friday in Toronto, CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge refused to admit a link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease of the brain.

Players' lawyer urges league to acknowledge connection between game and brain injury

CFL Commissioner refuses to admit link between football and CTE

6 years ago
Duration 2:44
Jeffrey Orridge says the CFL's position 'is that there is no conclusive evidence' that links football to brain diseases

CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge refused to admit a link between football and degenerative brain disease in his state of the league address Friday in Toronto.

"Last I heard, it's still a subject of debate in the medical and scientific community," Orridge told reporters. "The league's position is that there is no conclusive evidence at this point. And as I said, we continue to work with them and monitor the progress that they're making in terms of getting a greater understanding of whether or not there is a linkage."

The CFL is facing a $200-million class action lawsuit filed in Ontario Superior Court in May by former players Korey Banks and Eric Allen. Robyn Wishart is representing the roughly 200 participants.

The suit alleges the league, former commissioner Mark Cohon, a Toronto doctor and clinic withheld information about how repeated concussions can lead to long-term cognitive disorders. None of the allegations has been proven in court.

"I can't comment on any pending litigation, you know, otherwise I would compromise the legal process in this country, and we're not going to do that," Orridge said.

In contrast, the National Football League admitted to a link between the sport and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in March. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain.

"A lot of the players [were] hoping CFL would come forward like the NFL and acknowledge the link. But we know what's really going on and that's why there's a lawsuit," Wishart told CBC News Network.

"I think Canadians are becoming aware of the risks associated with repetitive brain trauma. These players stepping forward have created a discussion for others not to be afraid if they have problems."

Research shows link to disease

Dr. Carmela Tartaglia, a neurologist and clinician investigator at University Health Network in Toronto, told CBC Sports that while the exact nature of the relationship is still being studied, there is a connection between repeated head trauma and diseases like CTE.

"Clearly not everybody who gets multiple concussions gets a neurodegenerative process, but there is a concern that when you look at the people that are suffering multiple concussions, there seems to be at least a signal that they're at increased risk," Tartaglia said.

Tartaglia, who is also works with the Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases and the Canadian Concussion Centre, is involved in a study with 100 former CFL players and has studied 20 of them so far. She feels Orridge's comment implies a lack of evidence for or against the link between concussions and CTE.

"I think there is accumulating evidence that there is a relationship, that multiple concussions can lead to neurodegenerative diseases, but some people seem protected against it, and not everyone is getting these diseases," Tartaglia said.

Bob McKeown, co-host of CBC's the fifth estate and a former Grey Cup winner with the Ottawa Rough Riders, recently spoke about his experiences with concussions and his plan to donate his brain to medical research.

"If there's one thing the CFL commissioner should be familiar with, it's that the medical science is clear about the link between football and degenerative brain disease," McKeown wrote last week. "Even the NFL now admits it and has agreed to that billion-dollar settlement.

"But for former CFL players suffering from dementia, there is little support from the league: no disability, no long-term care, apparently no attempt to identify victims and define the problem, not even recognition by the league that there is a problem."

Tartaglia called McKeown's decision to donate his brain "highly commendable."

"This is the only way we're going to move forward in this field. [We need to] study more cases and really understand what is the relationship," she said.

"We would like to stop it before it progresses, but we have to first of all be able to detect it, so the research is really trying to understand what is the relationship between multiple concussions and these diseases, and the first step is to figure out who has it and who doesn't."

With files from The Canadian Press


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