Health vs. Wealth: Are Concussions the new Tobacco?

January 30, 2014
A hockey player huddles on the ice after a hard hit

Many years ago, the tobacco industry was confronted with the mounting medical evidence of the harm their products were causing to their customers. Faced with the evidence, the industry had two choices: stop producing a product that was killing millions every year or continue to sell their products and attempt to confuse and deceive their consumers about the medical evidence. As we know, they chose the latter. They chose wealth over health.

But now, tobacco companies are being forced to address the health of their customers and are facing class action lawsuits from the families of those who died from consuming tobacco products. Government regulation is forcing the tobacco industry to accurately inform their customers about the health hazards associated with their products through explicit, prominent product labelling.

Today, professional sports in North America, including the National Football League and the National Hockey League, are facing similar choices. Medical evidence is now irrefutable regarding the health consequences of blows to the head and the brain injuries they cause. While contact sports like hockey and football carry inevitable risks of injury, the owners of these sports still have a “duty of care” to provide a safe work environment for their employees – in this case, the athletes.

Football and hockey owners can choose to ignore the mounting medical evidence and claim their sports are just fine the way they are. Or, they can choose to do the right thing and adopt policy and rule changes that provide a safer sport experience for their athletes.

If they believe their customers want their sport left unchanged, will they ignore the health of their athletes and cater to the fan base? Hopefully, they believe the health of their athletes is of paramount importance, and they will move quickly to put in place the rule changes and appropriate penalties to get gratuitous head blows out of their sports.

If they are unwilling to take such steps, the governments need to step in – before it’s too late and more athletes suffer unnecessarily – and regulate an industry incapable of regulating itself, as they did with the tobacco industry.

For the sake of those who play and the children who watch, we can only hope that they will choose health over wealth.

For information and resources on concussion prevention, visit

Paul Melia

CEO and President, CCES