Entries in NHL (3)


Derek Boogaard: NHL Enforcer Had Brain Disease

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Derek Boogaard, the former National Hockey League player who died from a drug overdose at age 28 in May, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- a progressive brain disease linked to concussions.

Dr. Ann McKee, director of neuropathology at the Bedford VA Medical Center and co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, examined Boogaard's brain and determined it showed signs of early CTE -- a post-mortem diagnosis he shared with more than 50 other athletes, including other hockey players, football players, wrestlers and boxers, according to the center's research.

"Unfortunately this finding does not contribute to our knowledge of the risks of normal hockey play for most participants, as very few hockey players engage in as many fights as Boogaard," Chris Nowinski, who co-directs the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy with McKee, said in a statement. "Athletes and parents should know that anyone who experiences repetitive brain trauma may be at risk to develop CTE, but we are hopeful that risk is small in hockey."

Boogaard was one of the NHL's most aggressive players, reportedly participating in more than 60 regular season fights. According to his family, Boogaard had his "bell rung" at least 20 times, but reported few concussions to his team or medical staff.

CTE shares features with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease. When severe, it can lead to dementia, impulsivity and rage.

In the two years before his death, Boogaard suffered from emotional instability, impulse control problems, short-term memory loss and disorientation. His death came months before the apparent suicides of two fellow NHL 'enforcers,' 35-year-old Wade Belak of the Nashville Predators and 27-year-old Rick Rypien of the Winnipeg Jets.

Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy co-director Dr. Robert Cantu said in a statement: "...based on the small sample of enforcers we have studied, it is possible that frequently engaging in fistfights as a hockey player may put one at increased risk for this degenerative brain disease."

Boogaard's brain is one of 99 athlete brains already received by the VA Brain Bank. Of 70 analyzed, more than 50 have shown signs of CTE.

More than 500 living athletes, including more than a dozen former hockey players, have agreed to donate their brains to the VA Brain Bank -- a gift they hope will protect future athletes.

"I think this is an enormous problem for athletes," McKee said of CTE. "By signing on to this research, they promote their own long-term safety and certainly the safety of future players."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sidney Crosby Says Concussion Won’t Knock Him Out of NHL

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images(PITTSBURGH) -- Pittsburgh Penguins hockey star Sidney Crosby won’t be taking the ice again until after he recovers fully from concussion-like symptoms brought about by repeated blows to the head last season, ESPN reported. The symptoms have kept him from playing since January.

During a news conference Thursday, the 24-year-old former MVP attempted to quell speculation that he would not return to the game but emphasized that he would not play again until symptoms, including “fogginess” and migraines, improve.

“Maybe I can get by with 90 percent, maybe I couldn’t but I’m not going to roll the dice with that,” he told reporters.

Crosby is the latest professional athlete to struggle with head trauma, and his case brings yet more attention to the debate about what needs to be done to protect these athletes from concussions.

Indeed, the story comes on the same day as an NPR report on the new NFL safety rules that will go into effect with the first kickoff of the season Thursday night, even as some fans argue that attempts to control the hard hits will detract from the game.

Voices urging more protection for players are growing louder, however. The suicide of Nashville Predators star Wade Belak last month, the third death in recent months of a hard-hitting NHL enforcer in which suicide was suspected, sparked speculation that the long-term effects of head trauma might be to blame.

Former pro football player Dave Duerson committed suicide in February by shooting himself in the chest. He requested in a suicide note that his brain be sent to the NFL brain bank for study. In May, researchers found that his brain did indeed show evidence of head trauma.

And it’s not just suicides. The father of 22-year-old Derek Sheely, starting fullback for the Frostburg State University Bobcats in Western Maryland, suspects that a brain injury was to blame for his son’s death earlier this month.

Professional sports organizations are starting to recognize the problem. The National Football League began hanging posters in locker rooms last season that describe symptoms of concussions and, for the first time, warning players and their coaches of the potential long-term consequences. And the latest offering from the popular Madden NFL video game franchise even has a feature that will take a virtual player out of the game if he experiences a concussion, an addition developers say they hope will bring the serious consequences of head trauma home for young fans.

But cases such as Crosby’s suggest that more needs to be done to protect young athletes from concussions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NHL Player Deaths Put Spotlight on Mental Health

Wade Belak in January 2011. Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images(CLEVELAND) -- Three of the National Hockey League's hard-hitting enforcers have died since May, highlighting the emerging link between head trauma and mental illness.

Wade Belak, the 35-year old former forward for the Nashville Predators, hanged himself Wednesday in a Toronto condominium, according to reports. His death followed the fatal drug overdose of former New York Ranger Derek Boogaard, 28, in May, and the suicide of Winnipeg Jet Rick Rypien, 27, in August.

"It's not only about the deaths, it's the deaths that surround similar-type players," Craig Button, general manager of the Calgary Flames, told the news agency Canadian Press. Belak played for the Flames from 1998 to 2011. "It's not just getting hit in the head, it's everything that goes with that role. I think that people are paying very, very serious attention to concussions and blows to the head and the role of the enforcer."

An enforcer's role, albeit unofficially, is to fight. As such, Belak, Boogaard and Rypien were among the NHL's most aggressive players, and arguably those most likely to take a punch.

Evidence to support the cumulative effects of repeated mild brain injuries is mounting. A recent study found that professional football players and boxers had chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- a progressive brain disease that shares characteristics with Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease.

"I think for all of these things there's an individual susceptibility that's based on someone's genetic makeup as well as any potential injury they've had in the past," said Dr. Alan Hoffer, assistant professor of neurological surgery and neurocritical care at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. "It's not like every enforcer in the NHL has gone on to have this happen, the same way not every lineman in the NFL goes on to have dementia."

In February, former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 50. He shot himself in the abdomen, requesting in a suicide note that his brain be studied for evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. And in July, seven former National Football League players filed a class-action lawsuit arguing the league failed to properly treat concussions and tried to conceal the link between football and brain injuries.

For Belak, Boogaard and Rypien, hits to the head were routine. And while equipment improvements can help dissipate the force of flying fists, concussions are an inevitable consequence of contact sports.

"Obviously, people have the freedom to do what they want to do to their bodies," Hoffer said. "I think things start to get a little bit controversial when you're talking about children. Then there's much more of an argument that we should be doing more to protect them."

Last September, Gilbert Allen Austin Trenum III, 17, of Prince William County, Va., hanged himself, an act his parents believe stemmed from the concussion he'd endured two days before in a high school football game. His parents, Gil and Michelle Trenum, have donated his brain to research.

Belak played 549 career games in the NHL, earning eight goals, 25 assists and 1,263 penalty minutes. He fought 136 times.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio