Are Hockey Players In Serious Risk Of Brain Trauma?

During the last several years there’s been a lot of research regarding the damage that football can have on its players. Former players have come forward sharing their unfortunate struggles with what the game has done to their brains. More and more of them are donating their brains to science after they pass away. However, during the last couple of seasons, we’ve seen many players suffer concussions while on the field. This has resulted in a serious conversation about how violent football can be, which has lead the league to implement new rules and players voicing their concerns about their future health.

Unfortunately, this concern isn’t isolated to the football field. It’s beginning to look like hockey players could face the same threat. This season alone we’ve seen Sidney Crosby get sidelined with a concussion, which was during the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. More recently there’s been the ten game suspension of Trevor Gillies for a blow to the head of the Wild’s Cal Clutterbuck. Gillies was previously suspended for nine games on February 11 for similar actions. Hockey is a sport of brutality, which is balanced with a degree of elegance, which is why I’m a fan. Sure, we enjoy the hits and fights, but not at the expense of ending a player’s career, or what could happen to a player after he’s hung up the skates. While the impact of hockey may not be as prevalent as football there should certainly be some concern. Look no further than the recent report regarding the late Bob Probert. If you don’t remember who Bob Probert was here’s a little reminder.


Probert began his pro-hockey career with the Detroit Red Wings when he was drafted by the team in 1983. After some off the ice issues, the Red Wings made Probert a restricted free agent. He was picked up by Detroit’s long time rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, in 1995. He officially retired during the 2002-2003 season. During his tenure in the NHL Probert was known as a fighter, not because he was just a tough guy, but because many times he was defending his teammates. His fights, 246 of them to be exact, are arguably some of the greatest in the NHL’s history. After Probert’s retirement he was frequently in and out of trouble with the law for alcohol and drug problems, which he also faced during his playing days, and also resulted in several confrontations with the police. On July 5, 2010, while boating with his family, Probert began suffering chest pains and collapsed. He was pronounced dead later that day. His family announced on September 25, 2010 that his brain would be donated to the Sports Legacy Institute, who are researching the effects of concussions on athletes.

On March 2, 2011, The New York Times and The Globe and Mail in Toronto released their results on Bob Probert. Probert, like more than 20 deceased football players, had the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.). C.T.E. can only be tested after a player’s death with researchers looking for abnormal protein deposits in the brain. Players that suffer from C.T.E. exhibit a number of symptoms, such as drug abuse, memory loss and impulse control. Probert’s widow stated that he displayed some of these symptoms the years proceeding his death. Probert’s case is one that is sparking a debate in hockey. Some believe that his alcohol problems and fighting on the ice are the reasons behind these findings. Others believe that the violent nature of hockey is to blame. What’s even more interesting is that while more than 100 pro-football have pledged to donate their brains to the project, only ten pro-hockey players have done so. One of these players is Keith Primeau, who had some 98 fights and four documented concussions during his career. Primeau stated, “I don’t think it contributed to my overall concussion situation, but I wouldn’t discount it, either.”

C.T.E. may not be at the same level of concern in hockey as it is in football, but it’s an issue that’s starting to get addressed. The NHL and NHLPA have acknowledged the fact that the game can cause brain injuries. Former player Jeremy Roenick has stated that it’s time for the NHL to “wake up”. However, until there are more studies conducted on former pro-hockey players, it’s hard to prove the risks of the sport. Fans, and players, are well aware of the dangers, there’s just not as much evidence when compared to football. Regardless, it should be interesting to see how the NHL will respond to this recent report on Probert. Let’s just hope that they can protect players without jeopardizing the game and overacting like the NFL has at times this past season.

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