Tag: chronic traumatic encephalopathy

Derek Boogaard

Bettman says it’s too early to link CTE to fighting


Not all of the news coming out of the Board of Governors meeting in Pebble Beach has revolved around realignment. In addition to the well-publicized conference shuffling, Gary Bettman discussed a much more important topic on the second day of the meetings in California. Today, the NHL commissioner was discussing the New York Times article that revealed that yet another former NHL player had been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

It’s not surprising that Bettman was confronted with plenty of questions in the wake of the Times series of articles this week. But even as former players are being diagnosed, the league insists that it’s too soon to make any assumptions.

From QMI Agency: “Do you know everything that went on in their lives?” asked Bettman. “Were there other things going on which could also cause CTE? The data is not sufficient to draw a conclusion. Our experts tell us the same thing. You don’t have a broad enough database to make that assumption or conclusion because you don’t know what else these players might have had in common, if anything.”

But that wasn’t all Bettman had to say. He insists that the league has been ahead of the curve with head injuries and continues to look for ways to keep their players safe. “Look at our history,” Bettman told USA Today’s Kevin Allen. “Starting in 1997, we’ve been all across all fronts, whether it was the working study group, baseline testing, diagnosis and return-to-play protocol, rule changes and creation of the department of player safety, we’ve been doing lots and lots and will continue to do lots and lots. But there are no easy answers yet. But I think it’s unfortunate that people use tragedies to jump to conclusions that probably at this stage aren’t supported.”

The problem for the league and its decision makers is that there isn’t an easy fix even if CTE is positively linked to the NHL. It’s easy to say that fighting would eliminate the degenerative brain risk, but Rick Martin wasn’t a fighter and he was diagnosed with CTE earlier this year.

No matter what rule changes are put in place, hockey is a fast-paced, violent game. “Even if it’s a legal hit, it can lead to a concussion,” Bettman said. “We play a very fast-paced, physical game in a close environment. I think people need to take a deep breath and not overreact. It’s important to react and it’s something we’ll monitor closely.”

Nobody wants any of the players to have to endure mental or physical injuries that linger well past their playing career. The league may be slow to admit there is very likely a link between NHL hockey and CTE, but it’s true that there isn’t a quick fix to prevent players from potentially dealing with the disease.

The best news: it’s an issue that is getting mentioned at one of the most important meeting of the year. The first step is admitting there may be a problem. Once the issue is officially on the docket, the Board of Governors can take a look at possible solutions.

Terrifying Trend: Evaluation shows Rick Martin had brain damage

Terry Pegula, Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert
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On the last night of a positively nightmarish offseason, the league may have been dealt the most devastating long-term news of the summer. Rick Martin, NHL Hall of Famer and member of the legendary French Connection line, passed away in March at the age of 59. Tonight, researchers from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy revealed that Martin had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)—a disease that has repeatedly been linked to brain trauma.

Martin is the third NHL player to donate his brain to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (a joint venture between the Sports Legacy Institute and Boston University). Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert had previously donated their brains to the center for research—both were found to have Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Sadly, Martin is now the third former hockey player to show signs of CTE.

This is nothing new for athletes—football players like Mike Webster and Dave Duerson have also shown signs of the degenerative disease. The difference here is the type of player Rick Martin was and what this could mean for an entire generation of hockey players. Webster and Duerson were interior linemen in the trenches of the National Football League. They were paid to knock heads for 60 snaps per game—14 (now 16) games per season.

On the hockey side of things, Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert were known for the physical side of their trade as well. Both were known for their hands flying in a fight as much as they were known for their hands on a hockey stick. It doesn’t take a long leap of faith to understand that repeated fists to the head can lead to brain damage.

Rick Martin is different. It’s the difference that should send chills down the spines of hockey fans and players all over North America. From the Associated Press:

“The difference is Martin wasn’t a fighter. He’s the first non-enforcer who has been diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy by researchers at a Boston University brain bank.

“Martin died of a heart attack at the age of 59 in March. All three former NHL players who have donated their brains for research so far have been diagnosed with CTE, a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated brain trauma.”

The obvious part of the story that stands out is that Rick Martin was known as a skilled forward and not as an enforcer. Lisa Dillman from the LA Times shared even more specifics about the report and Martin’s health history:

“It was noted by researchers in the report that Martin’s only known concussion occurred in 1977 during a game when his head hit the ice. Martin, who was not wearing a helmet, suffered ‘immediate convulsions.’”

Martin engaged in only fourteen fights in fourteen seasons in juniors and the NHL. Let’s be honest, we have a name for a guy who gets into one fight per season: a hockey player. From a physical standpoint, Martin was a normal hockey player. In fact, during his era, you could almost consider him a finesse player—so for Martin to be diagnosed with CTE makes one wonder about an entire generation of hockey players.

It’s important to note that Martin played in a different era and without a helmet for the majority of his career. Even though he was diagnosed with a concussion, it took convulsions to make doctors take note. Back when he played, trainers would diagnose most concussions by saying the player “just got his bell rung.” The culture of the game would force players right back onto the ice and ignore any possible symptoms that could have served as warning signs.

Recently, we have player after player diagnosed with concussions. The players are missing longer periods of time as they recover and the league is taking admirable steps to insure that teams don’t rush their players back to the ice. In just as many instances, the league is protecting the players from trying to come back before they’re 100% ready for the rigors of an NHL game.

The chilling part is that this could just be the beginning for the sport. As more and more hockey players from the 1970s and 1980s donate their brain to science, we will undoubtedly hear about more players who have suffered from the degenerative brain disease. But what about today’s players? Are they adequately protected with improved helmets and equipment? Or is the game so fast today that NHL players are exposing their bodies to long-term damage that we won’t know about until they’ve retired and it’s too late?

Before today, there was hope that CTE was limited to the enforcers around the league. It was a dirty little secret that the league needed to deal with—but it was an isolated problem. Two enforcers had already shown to have CTE and Derek Boogaard’s brain is currently being examined at Boston University.  But now?  This is a problem that could affect every single player who’s stepped on NHL ice over the last four decades.

Regrettably, this isn’t a problem that will stop when the offseason ends.