Bob Probert's brain donated to Boston University
Bob Probert was one of the most feared hockey players in the 1980s and 1990s. His fists did most of his playing for him, although he was known to score the occasional goal, including the last goal ever scored at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. His best season
was the 1987-88 season when he scored 29 times, and accumulated 62 points for the Detroit Red Wings.
Probert died of a heart attack on 5 July 2010.
This week his family announced that his brain was donated to a research project studying head trauma in athletes at Boston University.
"I believe that it was a very difficult decision," said Daniel Parkinson, Probert’s father-in-law. "I know Dani (Probert’s wife) and Bob had spoken about (donating his body to science) prior to his passing. I know he wanted to advance the research."
As a fighter, and a hockey player, he suffered numerous head injuries. He also suffered from drug abuse. In 1989 he was arrested for possession of cocaine, and spent three months in jail as a result.
When Probert played hockey, concussions were often misdiagnosed, or not diagnosed at all. Often players turned to drugs to ‘dull the pain’.
Today’s NHL is full of head injuries. Marc Savard has delayed his return to the Boston Bruins after suffering head trauma after a hit he took last year from Matt Cooke of Pittsburgh. Peter Mueller, a 22-year-old forward for the Colorado Avalanche suffered
his third concussion Wednesday, days before he was supposed to start using a new helmet introduced by former NHLer Mark Messier called the ‘Messier Project’.
The NHL has taken steps to prevent head injuries by not allowing hits to the head, or blind-side hits, but in such a fast and aggressive game, head injuries have proven difficult to prevent.
Probert’s family agreed to participate in the research the Centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy was doing at Boston University after Reggie Fleming, a deceased NHL player from the 1960s and 70s, was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy
(CTE). CTE is a progressive degenerative disease found in persons that have suffered from multiple concussions.
Many former NFL players and ex-boxers have been diagnosed with CTE as well.
NHL veteran Keith Primeau, who will be donating his brain posthumously to Boston University, has had much to say on the NHL regarding head injuries.
"There was a period of time where groin injuries were front and centre, and knee injuries were front and centre, but they began to build it into their business model,” he said in 2009. “They accepted the fact that players were going to miss time because
of sports hernias. To me, the head is so much different than just a torn abdominal muscle or a torn knee, in that it can be life altering.”
No one wants to cause or be the victim of head injuries, but in a big money sport like hockey there are many players who hope to make a living from thundering hits and fisticuffs. These players don’t want to end the careers of the players they hit, but they
do want to continue their own careers. If they don’t have the ability to score or play goal, they can often be left with little option but to fight and body check, or find some other line of work.
Fans will sing a similar story. They don’t like seeing players on any team injured, but when players throw their gloves down and start wailing on each other, or when they see a player slammed into in an open-ice hit, they stand up in their seats and cheer.
It’s a part of the game, and it’s not one that will be likely taken out, but something needs to be done to protect the players. There is no surgery to repair a broken brain, at least not yet. Perhaps donations from players like Probert and Primeau will eventually
lead better protection for the next generation of players.