Another NHL Player with Brain Damage – Why This One Should Worry You

The results on All-Star NHL player Rick Martin are in.

He had brain damage, specifically  chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The former Buffalo Sabre winger died of a heart attack at the age of 59 in March. Like almost 500 currently living professional athletes,  Martin had donated his brain to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine. Researchers at the Center do special tests to determine whether a former athlete has suffered traumatic brain injury.


According to Chris Nowinski, a former professional WWE wrestler, concussion research advocate, and founder of the Sports Legacy Institute at BU:

Rick Martin’s case shows us that even hockey players who don’t engage in fighting are at risk for CTE, likely because of the repetitive brain trauma players receive throughout their career. …We hope the decision makers at all levels of hockey consider this finding as they continue to make adjustments to hockey to make the game safer for participants.

CTE Center co-founder, neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Cantu:

…when we look at this most recent case of Mr. Martin, that’s a problem because he wasn’t a fighter, he’d only had perhaps one concussion. And so we’ve got to be concerned that the jostling of the brain just from the skills of the sport of playing in the National Hockey League led to him having chronic traumatic encephalopathy when he died.

So far, the institute has done testing on 70 former athletes. More than 50 have shown signs of CTE, including 14 of 15 former NFL players. CTE has also been found in professional wrestlers and boxers and even in college and high school football and hockey players. The youngest was 18 years old!

This is where I get worried.

Professional athletes get paid a lot of money in this country. College players are pushed hard to succeed. College scholarships are tightly connected to sports programs. High school players are pushed hard to succeed and so on.
And I don’t see this changing anytime soon, do you?

  • Do we really understand what impact contact sports may have on the developing brains of student athletes?
  • Would you let your kids play contact sports if there was a chance that this might lead to dementia in later life?

Please share your thoughts with us and we’ll pass them along to the CTE Center at BU.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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