Daniel Carcillo in 2014

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Baffoe: Daniel Carcillo Is Fighting The Good Fight

Carcillo continues to take the NHL to task for ignoring head injuries and brain trauma.

Tim Baffoe
May 16, 2018 - 8:51 am
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By Tim Baffoe--

(670 The Score) Former Chicago Blackhawks winger Daniel Carcillo was a goon when he skated professionally. That term can have an affectionate intent, a la Warren Zevon’s ode, or a derisive one, depending on the feelings toward the person. Finesse and grace weren't apt descriptors for Carcillo, and his play lent itself to fodder for the snarkier corners of modern hockey discussion that eschewed enjoyment of the fading primal aspects of hockey in favor of a sleeker, smarter game.

The dude fought a lot, amassing more than 1,200 penalty minutes in nine seasons in the NHL with just 100 points tallied. But while his game on the ice didn’t often seem it, he bucked the goon stereotype by being rather cerebral for a brawler.

After arriving in Chicago from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011, Carcillo began hosting a local radio show. He represented the Blackhawks in Chicago’s Pride Parade in 2017. He has been admirably open about his battles with prescribed medication in his playing days and with mental health in his life after the ice. He started a foundation, Chapter 5, that helps retired athletes deal with life after the game. It’s the stuff that makes one regret mocking him as a less-than-one-trick sideshow when he played here (raises hand). 

Even when it came to fighting an opponent, he sometimes had a philosophical bent. After refusing to drop gloves against Steven Pinizzotto in a 2014 blowout, Carcillo explained: “It was a 6-0 game and there really wasn't much going on. (Pinizzotto) hasn't done anything to kind of warrant me to fight him. You don't just go up to guys and ask them to fight and then I'm going to fight. That's not the way it works. There was no advantage in me fighting him." 

Now Carcillo sees a fight that has an advantage for him and others, but it’s against a much bigger and more important opponent -- the NHL itself. 

After his friend and teammate Steve Montador died in 2015, Carcillo felt compelled to take up the cause of getting fans and the league to acknowledge hockey’s issues with brain injuries, most notably writing a piece and recording a moving video for The Players’ Tribune. Montador was diagnosed posthumously with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Carcillo announced this month that his own brain would be donated for CTE research. 

Another late former Blackhawk, Bob Probert, was also deemed to have suffered from the disease. The New York Times recently profiled the death of former player Jeff Parker from it. There are definitely more former players who have had it. Nine brains of former NHL players have been donated to a “Brain Bank” in Boston to be examined by Dr. Ann McKee. Ben Lovejoy of the New Jersey Devils this year became the first active player ever in the league to offer to donate his brain for the research.

Yet the league itself claims there’s no issue. More than 100 former players, including Carcillo, have filed a class-action lawsuit against the NHL, claiming it didn’t properly warn them about head trauma risks. Commissioner Gary Bettman, an individual who constantly finds new ways to be the evil CEO from an '80s movie, has denied any link between hockey and brain issues for years. Carcillo has grown from taking up a cause out of heartache to being outright fed up with his former bossman and company.

On Tuesday, he spoke at length on the McNeil & Parkins Show.

"If the first three letters are NHL, you're going to get the same archaic message, which is 'We do not believe that you need treatment for a traumatic brain injury; we do not believe in seeing a link between traumatic brain injuries and CTE' when all the other professional sports leagues have come out and said that," Carcillo said.

"That's why I moved forward with that narrative, that this is the only league, the only professional sports league, that continues to deny it, and because they deny it, they're killing people. They're killing people.” 

The NFL has at least pretended to care about player brain injuries. It donated $30 million to the National Institute of Health after Hall of Famer Junior Seau’s suicide, only to have the NIH decide not to accept almost half of it years later when the league was found to be very NFL about their benevolence. The NFL settled with retired players for more than $1 billion in January 2017 (but hasn’t really paid that out).

But the NHL isn’t even trying to appear decent. According to HBO, which profiled the league’s lack of action on issue and interviewed Montador’s father back in an episode of “Real Sports” in February, the NHL has donated “zero dollars to any of the major centers of concussion study in North America." The league is still fighting the player lawsuit.

In April, Dr. McKee and Dr. Chris Nowinski of Boston University’s CTE Center told the New York Daily News that, "The evidence clearly supports that CTE is associated with ice hockey play." That was a month after Bettman claimed in a radio interview that those doctors didn’t have enough evidence to make any link.

"I will not stand by and let Steve Montador's son, who's four months younger than my son,” Carcillo said Tuesday, “I won't stand by and have them grow up in a world where they don't have the information. This is my fight, because we didn't have the information, but apparently the NHL did.” 

Carcillo has started a social media campaign imploring every NHL team and the NHL Players' Association to do more about this issue, but he’s seen little meaningful response and is justifiably angry about that -- as any decent person should be. He calls the NHL the “League of Denial,” which is also the title of a jarring documentary and book about the NFL’s handling of brain trauma. Carcillo called the Players’ Association the “Union of Compliance,” indicting it as well for bending to Bettman instead of fighting on behalf of player health.

"This is a purpose. I don't get any kickbacks from a brain center,” said Carcillo, who has also promised to donate any money he gains from the class-action suit to research. “I just get to lay my head on the pillow knowing guys are getting help and (so) they don't have to make nine keys for the same deadbolt like Steve Montador had to do when I went to his house in Mississauga. They get to enjoy their son, because his son was born four days after he passed away. It's not fair, and it pisses me off. That's why I get up every day."

Even though Carcillo hasn’t played in the league since 2015, the NHL would surely try to dismiss him as an unruly goon right now. The rest of us should apply that term to him today with affection.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for 670TheScore.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.​​​