If there are any positives that can come from the recent string of hockey player deaths, it’s that their untimely ends might encourage the kind of changes that prevent similar outcomes for others.
Finding ways to help players who are coping with depression is currently on the forefront of many discussions since the perception is that both Rick Rypien and Wade Belak might have succumbed to such problems, but that’s far from the only issue that troubles players who essentially fight for a living. Concussions are also cited as a major issue for enforcers, with that issue being one of the main focuses after Derek Boogaard died in May.
Shortly after his death, Booggaard’s family decided to donate his brain to help researchers study the effects of concussions. The Associated Press reports that researchers (including well-known specialist Dr. Robert Cantu) have begun studying Boogaard’s brain at Boston University. Cantu’s team of researchers found that former enforcer Bob Probert had a degenerative brain disease after studying his brain after the beloved fighter’s death earlier this year.
The AP reports that Boogaard’s family would have to give permission for the results to be released. Here’s an interesting (and troubling) quote from a New York Times report that was quoted in this article about Probert’s brain.
Hockey’s enduring tolerance for and celebration of fighting will almost certainly be tested anew now that Probert, more pugilist than playmaker, has become the first contemporary hockey player to show C.T.E. after death. Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy had previously diagnosed the disease in a long-retired player, Reggie Fleming, a 1960s-era enforcer who played before the full adoption of helmets.
“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.”
Boogaard was just 28 years old when he died in May, so that would probably ranks as being “relatively young.” We’ll keep an eye on the situation if the results are revealed because similar results for Boogaard might make the issue of fighting that much more controversial for the NHL.