Why doesn't the NHL do more to prevent it?
Enforcers, players whose entire purpose is to intimidate the other team, have always been a part of the National Hockey League. In recent years, however, they have been garnering attention for reasons other than their tough play and intimidating presence. In the last few years medical researchers have begun to examine the effects repeated head injuries have on professional athletes. Researchers have discovered that repeated blows to the head suffered by athletes can result in a form of dementia. This form of dementia known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a new disease that has only been seen in people who have suffered repeated blows to the head. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease that has been linked to the deaths of many young athletes, including Minnesota Wild enforcer Dereck Boogaard. Boogaard was 28 years old when he died from the disease in may 2011. The disease results in the degeneration of brain tissue, which in turn causes dementia, as well as addictive and depressive behaviour. CTE is the only form of dementia that is preventable yet the National Hockey League (NHL) is plagued with head injuries. Although the NHL has made changes to rules in order to help prevent head injuries, players are still suffering from concussions.
Derek Boogaard - Dead at 28
Derek Boogard grew up playing hockey in Saskatchewan. He was never much of a skilled player but he was big. Boogaard was encouraged to fight and use his size to intimidate the other team. When he was 16 years old he was drafted by the Western Hockey League as an enforcer and he continued to fight his way, both literally figuratively into the National Hockey League (NHL). Derek Boogaard began his career as an NHL enforcer in 2005 with the Minnesota Wild and would continue to play that role during the entirety of his NHL career. During the six years that Boogaard played in the NHL he three goals and 589 minutes in penalties. It was his career choice and vast number of fights that ultimately lead to his death. On may 13 2011 Boogaard's brother's found him dead of an accidently overdose in his home. After his death, his family gave his brain to scientist so they could study the effects of head injuries on the brain. What the scientists found astounded them; Boogaard's brain showed signs of CTE. Repeated blows to his head had caused degeneration of brain tissue. His death has since been blamed on CTE.
What is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy?
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a degenerative disease of the brain that occurs as a result of repeat head trauma, including concussions. The disease dates back to the 1920's when boxers began showing signs of the disease. Eventually retired football
players, who also regularly receive blows to the head, began showing symptoms of the disease. Today the disease has been linked to a wide variety of athletes who have sustained repeated blows to the head, including professional hockey players. The repeated trauma triggers progressive degeneration of brain tissue, which results in an abnormal build-up of protein called tau. These changes in brain tissue can occur anywhere from months to decades after the last brain trauma. The damage to the brain tissue is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, addiction, impulse control problems, aggression, depression and eventually progressive dementia. Derek Boogaard suffered many head injuries during his NHL career, which cause his brain to develop CTE and as a result of CTE he died of a drug overdose.
Head injuries still occur at an alarming rate in the NHL
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a serious form of dementia that can be prevented; in fact it is the only form of dementia that can be prevented. Yet fighting still remains an important part of the NHL. The commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman, explained that fans find fighting far too entertaining to remove it completely from the game. Instead the NHL has introduced more severe penalties and fines for players who check anyone intentionally in the head. While this might help the number of head injuries suffered in the NHL it does not fix the problem. Players are still getting injured. Sidney Crosby, one of hockey's greatest was injured after receiving two head shots in January of 2011, and did not return for the entire season. He finally returned to play on November 21st 2011 but in December of 2011 he received another hit to the head, which cause his concussion symptoms to return; he has not played since. As seen in the case of Sidney Crosby, players are still suffering from head injuries in the NHL. The league has tried to prevent intentional head shots, but they still occur. How many more players will develop CTE before the NHL does something to better protect the brains of their players?