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Tests Confirm Probert had chronic traumatic encephalopathy


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#1 mstegman

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 06:53 AM

http://www.nytimes.c...html?ref=sports

March 2, 2011
Hockey Brawler Paid Price, With Brain Trauma
By ALAN SCHWARZ

TECUMSEH, Ontario — For 16 seasons, Bob Probert’s fists were two of hockey’s most notorious weapons, winning most of his 246 fights and feeding the N.H.L.’s fondness for bare-knuckle brawling.

But the legacy of Probert, who died last July of heart failure at 45, could soon be rooted as much in his head as his hands. After examining Probert’s brain tissue, researchers at Boston University said this week that they found the same degenerative disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, whose presence in more than 20 deceased professional football players has prompted the National Football League to change some rules and policies in an effort to limit dangerous head impacts.

Although the National Hockey League has taken steps recently to reduce brain trauma — banning blindside hits to the head, for example — it has nonetheless continued to allow the fighting that some say is part of the sport’s tradition and appeal. Teams continue to employ and reward players like Probert, who are known as enforcers because of how they intimidate opponents.

Hockey’s enduring tolerance for and celebration of fighting will almost certainly be tested anew now that Probert, more pugilist than playmaker, has become the first contemporary hockey player to show C.T.E. after death. Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy had previously diagnosed the disease in a long-retired player, Reggie Fleming, a 1960s-era enforcer who played before the full adoption of helmets.

“How much is the hockey and how much is the fighting, we don’t really know,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of the Boston University center and a prominent neurosurgeon in the area of head trauma in sports. “We haven’t definitely established that the skills of hockey as a sport lead to a certain percentage of participants developing C.T.E. But it can happen to hockey players, and while they’re still relatively young.”

Donald Fehr, the executive director of the players union, said the findings on Probert could not be taken lightly.

“Obviously, when you have a finding like this, it raises concerns and it bears serious examination,” Fehr said. “My impression is that the players want the best medical and scientific evidence that they can find so they make their decisions. They’re not looking to hide from the data. I don’t think anyone in hockey is looking to hide from the data.”

When informed of the Probert finding, Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of N.H.L., said he could not comment beyond his immediate reaction:

“We’re aware of what B.U. is doing, and we’ve met with them before,” Daly said. “It’s interesting science. We have interest in it. To the extent that the science itself starts to suggest certain conclusions, obviously we’re open to accepting that and addressing that moving forward. But we can’t take steps tomorrow based on what we’re finding out today.”

Some of the league’s top players, including the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, have missed significant time this season after sustaining concussions in the course of play. Commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this year that concussions resulting from fights had increased.

Probert was not the average player — he reveled in extremes both on and off the ice, primarily in fighting, drinking heavily and embracing other physical risks.

Probert’s posthumous autobiography, “Tough Guy,” gleefully offers details of his 3,300 career penalty minutes — fifth in N.H.L. history — and recounts so many brawls with enforcers like Tie Domi and Marty McSorley that it requires 11 pages to list them all. He scored 163 goals in his career from 1985 through 2002, for the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks, but was so known for his fighting that a 2007 Hockey News poll rated him the greatest enforcer in hockey history.

Probert drank heavily beginning in his youth in Windsor, Ontario, and he used cocaine to the point that he served 90 days in a Minnesota prison and was suspended by the N.H.L. multiple times, including for the entire 1994-95 season. His police record included driving citations, bar fights and assaults on police officers. While boating last July 5 on Lake St. Clair, near his home in Tecumseh, Probert collapsed and died of heart failure, including an 80 percent blockage of the left coronary artery.

Many athletes later found with C.T.E. — whose test for abnormal protein deposits in brain tissue can be administered only after death — presented symptoms like drug abuse, impulse control and impaired memory only in the years before they died, suggesting that the disease contributed to it.

Probert’s case is considerably more difficult to interpret, Cantu said, because of his history. Cantu and other Boston University researchers declined to discuss any further specifics regarding Probert before publication in an academic journal.

Probert’s widow, Dani, said in an interview at their home on Tuesday that the B.U. group had said that her husband’s C.T.E. was less developed than that found in most football players of similar age. She added that in his final few years, Probert exhibited some behavior uncharacteristic to him, especially memory loss and a tendency to lose his temper while driving.

Cantu, while not speaking about Probert’s substance abuse specifically, also emphasized that “as of now, the medical community is not aware that any drug abuse, including alcohol, leads to” chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Dani Probert said that her husband was aware of growing concern about C.T.E. among athletes in contact sports, and that they had discussed it soon before he died after a “60 Minutes” feature on the subject.

“I remember joking with him, ‘Wouldn’t your brain make a nice specimen?’ ” she said. “He started questioning whether he would have it himself. He told me that he wanted to donate his brain to the research when he died. Who would have thought that six months later it would be happening?”

Chris Nowinski, a co-director of the Boston University research group, said that 10 other professional hockey players, almost all of whom played in the N.H.L., had pledged to donate their brains upon death. More than 100 professional football players have done the same, including Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bears star and players union official who committed suicide two weeks ago.

Keith Primeau, who played with Probert in Detroit for several seasons in the early 1990s, arranged to donate his brain several months ago. Primeau sustained four documented concussions during his career but said in a telephone interview that he might have incurred others in fights that he did not recognize at the time.

“I was buckled a couple of times from a blow to the chin,” said Primeau, who had 98 fights in 15 N.H.L. seasons. “I don’t think it contributed to my overall concussion situation, but I wouldn’t discount it, either.”

Dani Probert said she learned of her husband’s having C.T.E. in early January but only recently became comfortable acknowledging it publicly. She said she would begin encouraging other hockey players to donate their brains, and raising awareness about the possible health risks of sports-related head trauma.

“In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe fighting is what did this to Bob,” she said. “It was hockey — all the checking and hits, things like that.”

She said those words just feet from a huge painting of Bob Probert that hangs in tribute to his hockey career. He is shown punching an opponent. On the canvas is scrawled a message from the artist:

“Gladiator as depicted by the Romans is a professional combatant or captive who entertains the public by engaging in combat. When it’s done for your team and your city, you’re known as a hero.”

Jeff Z. Klein contributed reporting.

#2 Glubki

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 08:11 AM

A very interesting and informative article. Thanks for posting it!
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#3 mstegman

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 12:10 PM

You're welcome. Be sure to click the link to the Times article. The picture is amusing, particularly the look on the kids face.

#4 Ram

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 03:07 PM

Interesting article if you're interested. Nothing conclusive about it being from hockey necessarily...said he wanted to donate his brain for research to "make sports safer for our children."

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#5 wings1110

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 03:18 PM

the only thing the nhl should do about fighting is make sure that the players know the side effects that COULD happen. in addition this is why i think u shouldnt be allowed to take your own helmet off intentionally. If you wear a half shield, dont if you wanna fight. Also the AHL and junior league should get rid of the rule that you have to wear a half shield, if you wearing a sheild you will most likely take your helmet off or unbuckle the strap so it will come off right away, their big boys they can make a decision about wearing a shield for themselves. I relize you can still get head injuries with a helmet on but, it less likely.

RIP probie you will still kick Domi's ass anyday!

#6 wingslogo19

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 05:23 PM

Really good read, Probert will always be missed.

RIP Bob Probert
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#7 Barrie

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 05:28 PM

I'll get grilled for this from some, but fighting is a thing of the past in hockey. It's time to move on. With what they know about concussions and head shots, it's time to give automatic game misconducts for fights and FINALLY get serious about head shots. I for one am scared someday to maybe see Datsyuk or Zetterberg get a serious concussion from someone who's half the player they are, and jealous of their talents and successes in the League, like Cooke.

It's much more fun to watch Draper-Helm-Abby stake around and cause problems with their speed, instead of meat heads like Chris Neil or Cooke. Fighting and goons have been slowly going out of style since the 1970's, it's time to finally get them out of the game.

I hope Don Cherry takes this article seriously, but I highly doubt it because he's stuck in 1972.
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#8 Mabuhay Red Wings

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 05:34 PM

Interesting article if you're interested. Nothing conclusive about it being from hockey necessarily...said he wanted to donate his brain for research to "make sports safer for our children."

RIP Probie

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Milbury won't like that quote at all. I see him using his usual phrase, "Baby Proof League" a lot.

#9 esteef

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 06:41 PM

Most concussions happen from hits not punches. Let's get hitting out of hockey.

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#10 F.Michael

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 06:58 PM

I'll get grilled for this from some, but fighting is a thing of the past in hockey. It's time to move on. With what they know about concussions and head shots, it's time to give automatic game misconducts for fights and FINALLY get serious about head shots. I for one am scared someday to maybe see Datsyuk or Zetterberg get a serious concussion from someone who's half the player they are, and jealous of their talents and successes in the League, like Cooke.

It's much more fun to watch Draper-Helm-Abby stake around and cause problems with their speed, instead of meat heads like Chris Neil or Cooke. Fighting and goons have been slowly going out of style since the 1970's, it's time to finally get them out of the game.

I hope Don Cherry takes this article seriously, but I highly doubt it because he's stuck in 1972.

Why not get rid of boxing/MMA/football...Those 3 make the head injury woes of hockey look miniscule.

Contact sports will always have issues regarding injuries.

IMHO the league can do a few things: go back to the "old school" shoulder/elbow pads, allow for a little bit of clutch/grab like we had seen throughout the 80's/early 90's just enough to slow guys down, and remove the instigator pen - yeah I said remove the instigator pen.

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#11 egroen

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 07:50 PM

I'll get grilled for this from some, but fighting is a thing of the past in hockey. It's time to move on. With what they know about concussions and head shots, it's time to give automatic game misconducts for fights and FINALLY get serious about head shots. I for one am scared someday to maybe see Datsyuk or Zetterberg get a serious concussion from someone who's half the player they are, and jealous of their talents and successes in the League, like Cooke.

It's much more fun to watch Draper-Helm-Abby stake around and cause problems with their speed, instead of meat heads like Chris Neil or Cooke. Fighting and goons have been slowly going out of style since the 1970's, it's time to finally get them out of the game.

I hope Don Cherry takes this article seriously, but I highly doubt it because he's stuck in 1972.

I hope not. I think fighting is exciting and one of the things that makes hockey at the pro level so unique.

These guys get paid tons of money to put their bodies at risk and are by no means forced to fight. It's a dangerous profession - just like the military or being a fire fighter or police officer, except hockey players probably have a lot more fun and get paid 100 times more.

Fighting actually reached it's height in the 80s, saw it's low immediately after the lockout and has actually been steadily increasing since then.

Edited by egroen, 03 March 2011 - 07:50 PM.

Red Kelly #4 and Larry Aurie #6 belong in the rafters!!!

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#12 wings1110

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 07:51 PM

Why not get rid of boxing/MMA/football...Those 3 make the head injury woes of hockey look miniscule.

Contact sports will always have issues regarding injuries.

IMHO the league can do a few things: go back to the "old school" shoulder/elbow pads, allow for a little bit of clutch/grab like we had seen throughout the 80's/early 90's just enough to slow guys down, and remove the instigator pen - yeah I said remove the instigator pen.

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#13 hockeychik25

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 09:38 PM

sad article.
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#14 commadore183

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 09:44 PM

There are actually accelerometers that are small enough to fit inside someone's ear, so it wouldn't be too hard to turn it into a hearing aid (to allow the player to hear around him, obviously) to measure the g-forces to the brain, as that's the closest to the brain that you can get without doing surgery. You can fit them to a player that has had a concussion and have it calibrated to alert the trainer if the player has received a preset number of gs, something like 100gs (as that's the threshold of a concussion). If the player's accelerometers registers gs above 100, then the trainer would be notified and would examine the player for any signs and symptoms of a concussion and could have him sit for a shift or for the rest of the game (especially if the gs were really high).

These accelerometers might be too expensive for a team to equip all of the players with, but it would work if a team has a player (or players) that has had concussions in the past, so their value to the players would far outweigh their costs, especially as some players command money in the high millions.

Fun fact: These accelerometers were developed for IndyCar racing in the US in the 90s in conjunction with Wayne State University to better determine whether a driver suffered a concussion after a crash (which, when you're going at 210+ most of the time, they're going to be big crashes).
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#15 Bring Back The Bruise Bros

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 11:47 PM

If you don't like to get hit and knocked around, play golf, or soccer. Simple as that. Nobody is holding a gun to these player's heads forcing them to play. These players know the risks of a contact sport like this. It's the risk you take when you lace up the skates. Sure, the crackdown on blindside hits to the head is a good thing, granted they don't take it overboard and fine/suspend someone every time a player gets hurt on a hit (clean or not).

Why not get rid of boxing/MMA/football...Those 3 make the head injury woes of hockey look miniscule.

Contact sports will always have issues regarding injuries.

IMHO the league can do a few things: go back to the "old school" shoulder/elbow pads, allow for a little bit of clutch/grab like we had seen throughout the 80's/early 90's just enough to slow guys down, and remove the instigator pen - yeah I said remove the instigator pen.

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#16 eva unit zero

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 12:36 AM

If you don't like to get hit and knocked around, play golf, or soccer. Simple as that. Nobody is holding a gun to these player's heads forcing them to play. These players know the risks of a contact sport like this. It's the risk you take when you lace up the skates. Sure, the crackdown on blindside hits to the head is a good thing, granted they don't take it overboard and fine/suspend someone every time a player gets hurt on a hit (clean or not).


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Fighting is not part of hockey. It's something that happens sometimes during a hockey game. If you can explain to me otherwise, please do.
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#17 Rikadyn

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 01:52 AM

Fighting is not part of hockey. It's something that happens sometimes during a hockey game. If you can explain to me otherwise, please do.



I don't think fighting was implied in the post, just the hits that occur naturally.

Honestly, I wouldn't complain if the NHL adopted international rules towards fighting (I'd also like to see them adopt International Ice size, but that's another thread)

#18 Seraph

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 01:59 AM

If you wrinkle your forehead every day, you end up with wrinkles, folks. What do you think will happen if you decide to get pummeled in the head for a living? It's a pretty obvious risk to whoever is taking it.

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#19 egroen

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 04:29 AM

Fighting is not part of hockey. It's something that happens sometimes during a hockey game. If you can explain to me otherwise, please do.

You seem to overlook the fact this is not an amateur sport we are talking about, in which case you would be right - fighting is not necessary for participants to enjoy the sport and get something positive out of it; and that is actually the case - college hockey and age group hockey (even beer leagues) have much less tolerance for fighting than the NHL.

But the NHL is a professional sporting league, and as such their source of income is 'entertaining' fans. Fans pay good money to be entertained by the best athletes in hockey, but also for the excitement of a decent toss every once in a while. Fighting has been a part of professional hockey for almost a 100 years - it has been ingrained in the culture of the fans as well as the players (over 90% whom regularly vote in players polls that fighting should remain a part of the game), and arguably even helps keep players honest and reduces cheap shots (which I would prefer not to argue about at this point) - fighting is one of the aspects which makes hockey unique and draws fans which might not otherwise clamor to watch lacrosse players on ice.

As professional entertainers, players are paid huge sums of money to risk bodily harm on a nightly basis - it's not exactly 'the children' we are trying to protect - or else we would all be striving to outlaw boxing and the MMA, to impose speed limits on race car drivers and eliminate tackling from football.

Selling professional hockey in North America, without fighting, is a losing proposition - to the players, fans and owners.

Edited by egroen, 04 March 2011 - 04:33 AM.

Red Kelly #4 and Larry Aurie #6 belong in the rafters!!!

"For my game, I don't need to score the goal," Konstantinov once explained. "I need someone to start thinking about me and forgetting about scoring goals."





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