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March 06, 2011

What Hockey Players Fear: Ending Up With Brain Damage (CTE) Like Football Players

Let me say (1) the all-American boy in the photo is not the topic of this post and (2) the photo contains enough material to support a PhD thesis on the sociology of sport. If the photo hadn't come from a reputable paper, you'd want to hope it was 'shopped.

This is the story of hockey player/enforcer Bob Probert, who died of heart failure in July 2010 at age 45. From the NY Times:
After examining Probert’s brain tissue, researchers at Boston University said this week that they found the same degenerative disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, whose presence in more than 20 deceased professional football players has prompted the National Football League to change some rules and policies in an effort to limit dangerous head impacts.

“How much is the hockey and how much is the fighting, we don’t really know,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of the Boston University center and a prominent neurosurgeon in the area of head trauma in sports. “We haven’t definitely established that the skills of hockey as a sport lead to a certain percentage of participants developing C.T.E. But it can happen to hockey players, and while they’re still relatively young.”

“In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe fighting is what did this to Bob,” said Dani Probert, Bob Probert’s widow. “It was hockey — all the checking and hits, things like that.”

Many athletes later found with C.T.E. — whose test for abnormal protein deposits in brain tissue can be administered only after death — presented symptoms like drug abuse, impulse control and impaired memory only in the years before they died, suggesting that the disease contributed to it.

Dani Probert said that her husband was aware of growing concern about C.T.E. among athletes in contact sports, and that they had discussed it soon before he died after a “60 Minutes” feature on the subject.

“I remember joking with him, ‘Wouldn’t your brain make a nice specimen?’ ” she said. “He started questioning whether he would have it himself.
He told me that he wanted to donate his brain to the research when he died.
Who would have thought that six months later it would be happening?

Chris Nowinski, a co-director of the Boston University research group, said that 10 other professional hockey players, almost all of whom played in the N.H.L., had pledged to donate their brains upon death. More than 100 professional football players have done the same, including Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bears star and players union official who committed suicide two weeks ago.

From the Feb.20 NY Times:
When the former football player Andre Waters shot himself in the head in late 2006, the few recoverable pieces of brain tissue, which later showed the same degenerative disease previously associated only with boxers, made the health risks of football a national conversation.

Football’s ramifications so concerned the former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson that, after
deciding to kill himself last Thursday, he shot himself in the chest, apparently so that his brain could remain intact for similar examination

This intent, strongly implied by text messages Duerson sent to family members soon before his death, has injected a new degree of fear in the minds of many football players and their families, according to interviews with them Sunday.

Randy Cross, a former San Francisco 49ers lineman, said, “It ought to terrify anyone that’s played the game.”

Duerson sent text messages to his family before he shot himself specifically requesting that his brain be examined for damage, two people aware of the messages said. Another person close to Duerson, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Duerson had commented to him in recent months that he might have C.T.E., an incurable disease linked to depression, impaired impulse control and cognitive decline.

Here's a statement of how strange it is: Hockey players are afraid they're going to end up like football players.

I would like to ask people who send their kids to play these games (in organized arenas with pads and helmets, where they're encouraged to hit hard): What are you doing?


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