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Gary Bettman again disputes concussions' link to CTE, NHL in letter to senator

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has once again maintained that there is not enough data yet to draw conclusions about the link between sports-related concussions and long-term brain degeneration.

This came in a 24-page letter he wrote to U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal that was posted on The New York Times' website Tuesday night, answering a series of questions put to him by the Connecticut Democrat on the NHL's stance on concussions and the brain disease chronic traumatic encephelopathy (CTE).

"[T]he science regarding CTE, including on the asserted 'link' to concussions..., remains nascent, particularly with respect to what causes CTE and whether it can be diagnosed by specific clinical symptoms," Bettman wrote in the letter to Blumenthal.

Bettman said the NHL and the player association's medical advisory consultants will continue to closely monitor the ongoing research into brain damage, but he emphatically argued that the research to this point has established no "causal link between CTE and concussions in team sports generally, much less in NHL hockey."

"If that [medical] consensus changes, so, too, will my answers," he added.

The NHL is currently facing a class-action lawsuit filed by 105 former NHL players who allege it had the resources to better prevent head trauma, failed to properly warn players of such risks and promoted violent play that led to their injuries.

The plaintiffs' primary request is medical monitoring for the roughly 4,800 living former players, plus additional unspecified relief. There is no dollar figure on the lawsuit, but the NFL's pending $1 billion concussion settlement with retired players could provide a benchmark.

Bettman, who was deposed for testimony last year, has said the lawsuit is "without merit." The league's first attempt to dismiss the claims was denied last year by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson. There is another pending motion for dismissal, based on an argument that the issues should be addressed through collectively bargained arbitration instead of court.

Bettman angered many former players last May with comments following the death of former NHL defenseman Steve Montador at age 35. Montador suffered from CTE. His family filed a lawsuit against the league that was recently consolidated with this case.

"From a medical and scientific standpoint," Bettman said then of the purported link between concussions and CTE, "there is no evidence yet that one leads to the other."