Every hockey fan recognizes the name of enforcer Derek Boogaard — and many recall his tragic death at the young age of 28, when Boogaard was discovered dead of an accidental pain med overdose in May 2011. After his passing, Boogaard was discovered to have been a victim of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a degenerative brain disease that is caused by repeated blows to the head.
Repeated blows to the head: that is something no one can doubt Derek Boogaard experienced during his time playing pro hockey with the Minnesota Wild and the New York Rangers.
What is CTE? According to the BU Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, CTE involves:
“… a history of repetitive brain trauma. This trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.”
Notice that symptoms are not readily apparent at the time of the brain injury. The horror of CTE is that it is slow to reveal itself — and it a very cruel disease when it does manifest in its victim.
“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,” said BU CSTE Co-Director and SLI Co-Founder Chris Nowinski. “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.” Nowinski added that two other young non-NHL professional hockey players studied did not show signs of CTE at postmortem examination.
The VA CSTE Brain Bank contains more brains diagnosed with CTE than have ever been reported in the world combined. There are 99 specimens. McKee has completed the analysis of the brains of over 70 former athletes, and more than 50 have shown evidence of CTE, including 14 of 15 former NFL players, as well as college and high school football players, other hockey players, professional wrestlers and boxers. Early evidence of CTE has been found in individuals as young as 17. More than 500 living athletes have committed to donate their brain to the BU CSTE after death, including over a dozen former hockey players.
Notice the statistics that accompanied the Boston University December 2011 release:
- 50 of the 70 former athletes had signs of CTE
- 14 of the 15 former hockey players had signs of CTE
- there was evidence of CTE being present in athletes as young as 17 years old.
Perhaps there will be something more to honor the memory of Derek Boogaard than his stellar hockey career: with this news of a wrongful death lawsuit being filed by his family, there may be more public awareness of the real dangers of playing sports where there is serious contact and “repeated blows” to the head (and brain). Teenagers playing hockey, as well as football, or wrestling, are vulnerable to CTE.
We posted last week about a study which confirmed that teenagers playing sports will try and play through an injury and this creates an even greater duty for coaches, teachers, and other adults to carefully monitor all young athletes that are involved in any contact sport where their head may be injured or hit. Hopefully, the reality of Derek Boogaard and other fine athletes can serve as an important warning to all of us.
Consider this list of professional athletes who have been victim of this brain disease as a result of being excellent at their sport:
Andrew “Test” Martin