On May 13, 2011, Derek Boogaard, hockey player for the New York Rangers, was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment. He was 28 years old.
What caused such a talented athlete to die so young has yet to be determined, but in an attempt to help unravel the mystery of brain injury, his family has made the decision to donate his brain to science. This selfless act has been taken in hopes of helping science understand the effects of repeated head trauma
Boogaard’s brain will be sent to Boston University Medical Center where ongoing research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy is conducted. Traumatic encephalopathy is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated hits to the head.
The Center for the Study of Dramatic Encephalopathy was established three years ago at Boston University. Since that time the brains of 75 deceased athletes–50% of them football players–have been studied. NHL player Bob Probert, who died last year from a heart attack at the age of 45, and Canadian wrestler Chris Benoit, who committed suicide in 2007 at the age of 40, are among the deceased athletes whose brains have been analyzed.Raising awareness of CTE.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, was once given the term “punchdrunk” and until recently, didn’t receive the attention it warranted. Between 1928 and 2005 less than 50 studies were conducted on the condition. Now, there are 400 living athletes who have decided to donate to the Boston brain bank once they die. This is significant because in order to determine the long-term effects of head trauma the brain must be studied postmortem. It’s impossible to detect many of the abnormalities in living people. The center acknowledges that the generosity of every family that has participated in the study has contributed to the knowledge of CTE.
Before his death, researchers approached Boogaard because of his aggressive, combative style. He actually missed the last half of the season with the Rangers because he was recuperating from a concussion. Currently there has been no confirmed link between that event and his death. Other sports figures committed to furthering research.
Dave Duerson, former NFL safety who died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest, left a note requesting that his brain be left to the center. It had already been established that he had brain damage linked to concussions. Keith Primeau and Kerry Goulet are two hockey players who have publicly announced their intention to leave their brains to science. Both have suffered major concussions during their sports careers. Their goal is to educate the coaches, players, and parents on how to recognize and prevent such potentially deadly head injuries through an organization they formed called Stop Concussions.
Right now there are young children going to bed after sports events with undiagnosed concussions. Head injuries in the NFL and NHL are in the media spotlight, but brain trauma in young athletes
receives woeful attention. This is a tragedy because the developing brain is far more susceptible to trauma damage.
Co-director for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Chris Nowinski states, “We need to demand more from ourselves and from our youth programs. We need to dramatically reduce unnecessary brain trauma, hitting in practice, changing rules so we aren’t intentionally hitting each other in the head. We need to be absolutely preventing any child we suspect that having a concussion go back into the game.”
Hopefully, a firm policy regarding what to do in the event of a head injury will soon be mandatory in minor sports. It’s time to stop waiting for data and statistical results to deal with a problem that is obviously happening right now.