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CFL finds lack of ‘conclusive’ evidence of concussion effects

CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge addresses guests during the annual "state of the league" speech, in Toronto on Friday, November 25, 2016.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge isn't following the NFL's lead and acknowledging a link between football-related head trauma and brain disease.

In March, Jeff Miller, the NFL's top health and safety officer, made the admission during a discussion on concussions convened by the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce. It marked the first time a senior league official conceded football's connection to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

But Orridge didn't follow suit Friday when asked about the issue during his annual state-of-the-league address.

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"I can't speculate or comment on what the NFL's findings have been and what led them to that conclusion," Orridge said. "Last I heard, it's still a subject of debate in the medical and scientific community.

"The league's position is there's no conclusive evidence at this point."

A month after Miller's admission, a U.S. federal judge gave final approval to a $1-billion (U.S.) class-action lawsuit settlement between the NFL and thousands of former players. It would cover over 20,000 retirees for the next 65 years for serious medical conditions associated with repeated head trauma.

The CFL has been named in a $200-million (Canadian) class-action lawsuit over concussions and brain trauma.

In March, a B.C. judge dismissed former player Arland Bruce III's concussion lawsuit against the league, former commissioner Mark Cohon, neuroscientist Dr. Charles Tator, the Canadian Football League Alumni Association and every team in the league. Bruce claimed the defendants down played the effects of repetitive head trauma and misrepresented player safety issues about concussions.

"The court case and ruling were a real 1-2 [punch] for CFL players," Brian Ramsay, the executive director of the CFL Players' Association, said in a statement Friday. "Despite efforts to improve health and safety protections and benefits in the [collective-bargaining agreement], the league has always resisted.

"During the court case, the league argued, and the court agreed, that the only protection injured players could count on was to be secured through collective bargaining, a path the league, has up to now, refused to follow, leaving injured players in a real bind.

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"With access to the courts denied, the CFLPA is now pressing for Workers' Compensation coverage for professional football players in the CFL. If team management don't step up and take full responsibility for injured players, the public health care system, financed by taxpayers, ends up with the bill for those injured players. That's not fair in our view and we're making a case to change that situation."

Orridge wouldn't comment about the class-action suit. But he told reporters the number of concussions suffered in the CFL this season was down 20 per cent (40 compared with 50 in 2015).

"I respect and admire all the people who helped build this league, there's no doubt about that," he said. "And I'm appreciative of what they may be going through.

"But some of our former family members are party to a class-action suit that is pending litigation … so I can't go any further than that. But certainly, you know, without them, there would be no us."

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