Perhaps it won’t be long before hockey acknowledges what is increasingly becoming clear: constant hits damage the brain.
The evidence sits in industrial-sized freezers at Boston University: the brains of dead hockey players.
There, researchers are looking for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — CTE.
There are more than 600 brains there now, mostly from football players, but an increasing number from hockey players.
Former Minnesota Wild player Derek Boogaard’s is there. So are ex-NHL’ers Reggie Fleming’s, Bob Probert’s, Larry Zeidel’s and Jeff Parker’s. There are four former junior hockey players’ brains in-house, too. They took their own lives before their 30th birthdays.
“We’ve finally gotten to the point where people recognize that we can’t just ignore this and it’ll go away. Which was basically the first nine years of my work, just trying to convince people this is actually a problem,” Dr. Ann McKee, a Wisconsin native, told Sports Illustrated in a profile of the problem last May.
Another brain has now revealed its secrets. It belonged to former University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey player Andrew Carroll, who jumped to his death from a parking garage at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport a year ago.
Carroll had CTE, researchers told his family last week, KSTP reports.
“Knowing it will certainly impact how you see the game moving forward,” his brother, Chris, the head hockey coach at Blaine High School, said. “In your mind and my heart right now, it will certainly change things.”
Researcher McKee told SI that she won’t be surprised if her work concludes that hockey inflicted less damage on the brain than football, but the consequences are the same as football.
“All you have to do is look at what’s happened to a lot of players. They talk about their symptoms, the symptoms are the same, the impulse control, aggression, volatility, suicidality, depression … all of those are the same,” she said.
The National Hockey League is in full denial. Commissioner Gary Bettman insisted that Boston University hadn’t yet established a link between the game and CTE. That’s a lie, the researchers said.
“We told Mr. Bettman that with that sample, we could not conclude if the presence of CTE was most likely associated with head impact exposure from normal hockey play or fights,” McKee said. “However, we were clear that the evidence supported the conclusion that in those four former NHL players, their CTE was due to the head impacts they received as a hockey player who participated in fights as part of the game.”
For now, Boston University says it needs more brains to come up with a way to treat CTE before ex-players take their own lives.
They’ll get them.