Alleging that players like need not have suffered from avoidable brain damage, the family of the late White Bear Lake hockey player has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the National Hockey League (NHL).
Scott Parker, Jeff’s brother, filed the suit late August in California Superior Court for Los Angeles County, in the capacity as trustee of his brother's estate, also naming Jeff’s 5-year-old daughter as a plaintiff.
“My brother Jeff signed up for the concussion lawsuit, and we feel obligated to follow up on his wish to do this,” said Scott Parker, a high school teacher and hockey coach in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. “We were instructed by the judge that this is the way to go about it.
“It wasn’t an easy decision for the family, but we kept going back to knowing that Jeff wanted to help younger players in the NHL, to let them know what is coming.”
Jeff Parker was among 150-plus former players in a lawsuit originally filed in 2013 alleging that the NHL promoted violence and fighting to make the league more popular and profitable, while downplaying health risks associated with concussions.
That was intended to be a class-action case, but a federal judge in St. Paul, Susan Nelson, rejected the class-action status July 13, on the grounds that it would present “significant case management difficulties.” As a consequence of that ruling, ex-players (or their families) had to choose whether to go it alone against the league. The Parkers elected to sue.
The 83-page lawsuit acknowledged that former players knew they might get injured playing in the league, but did not sign up for avoidable brain damage. A key passage reads: "The NHL was aware of the evidence and the risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries for many decades, but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information from the players, including the late Jeff Parker.”
It goes on to claim that the league “either took no steps to protect and educate its players or took insufficient steps to make players aware of the real risks of playing in the NHL, which would have protected players from unnecessary long-term effects of head trauma.”
Jeff Parker played four NHL seasons for the Buffalo Sabres and Hartford Whalers. He suffered multiple concussions, most notably the one that ended his career in 1991 when his head struck a metal stanchion as he was driven hard into the glass, while playing with Hartford against the Washington Caps.
Parker, who helped White Bear Mariner reach the state finals as a senior in 1982, and was one of the leaders of Michigan State’s national champion team in 1986, passed away Sept. 11, 2017, at age 53. His death was attributed to a blood infection.
The former hockey hero had been working as a bartender in a St. Paul bar in recent years. He told White Bear Press and other media outlets in interviews that he dealt with a constant ringing in his ears, loss of taste, and sensitivity to light, which was why he took the bartender job. He was also disoriented with memory loss at times, his brother said.
After Parker’s death, the family donated his brain to be studied at Boston University’s CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) Center. Examiners confirmed that he suffered from the neurodegenerative brain disease.
“The second (reason for filing) was the result of the CTE test,” Scott Parker said. “If we had not donated the brain, we would not have much of a case, but … the results of the test being what they were, knowing how far along his CTE was, that helped us make this very difficult decision.”
Scott Parker’s Facebook page is filled with links to stories of former NHLers struggling with head injuries. One article hitting close to home concerned Joe Murphy, a former Michigan State teammate of Jeff’s and a first-round draft pick. Scott was dismayed to learn that Murphy is homeless and doesn’t even have a cell phone.
“Our whole objective is to make the NHL accountable,” said Scott Parker. “This is not about Jeff; it’s about other young men who are suffering … This ruling, looking at it, I don’t know, I think makes it more difficult for some of the guys who are distraught and don’t have the resources, who don’t even have a cell phone.”
Scott Parker was interviewed about Jeff’s case by the Chippewa Falls Leader-Telegram in May. About the CTE discovery in Jeff’s brain, he commented, “I knew it all along — when he was late for his brother John’s wedding, when he went to the wrong place for a TV interview, when he would come to my house and go down in the basement because he needed to be in a dark place.”