Researchers at Boston University said Thursday the brain of NHL player Bob Probert
showed signs of the degenerative brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The disease was found through analysis of brain tissue donated by the family of Probert, who died of heart failure last July at age 45.
Probert, who played for Detroit and Chicago during a 16-year career, is the second hockey player from the program at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy to be diagnosed with the disease after death. Reggie Fleming
, who played for six NHL teams during the 1960s, also had CTE.
The Center is a collaboration between Boston University Medical School and the Sports Legacy Institute that aims to take a deeper scientific look at concussions in sports. The group has been at the forefront of research into head trauma in sports. Dr. Robert Cantu, neurosurgeon and co-director of the center, said Probert's role as an enforcer doesn't necessarily suggest his fighting role led to CTE.
"How much is the hockey and how much is the fighting, we don't really know," Cantu told the New York Times. "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."
The NHL has communicated regularly with the Boston center's leaders and has been proactive in exploring rule changes that protect against concussions, including the institution of Rule 48 this season intended to eliminate blindside hits to the head.
"The [Probert] findings are interesting and certainly something we'll add to a much broader body of knowledge," said Bill Daly, NHL Deputy Commissioner. "But we're not going to react or make changes based on findings related to one player, especially when it's impossible to identify or isolate one of many variables that may have factored into the conclusions reached, and when there is no real 'control group' to compare his results to."
"Obviously, when you have a finding like this, it raises concerns and it bears serious examination," said Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association. "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."
The detailed results of Probert's brain tissue won't be released until first submitted to an academic medical journal. Probert's family requested the diagnosis be made public so awareness could be raised of the dangers of brain trauma in sports and encourage greater efforts to make sports safer for the brain.
'We are evaluating the rules of our game constantly and, obviously, we use a lot of information as a basis to do that," said Daly when contacted by the Los Angeles Times. "These conclusions add to that universe of information, nothing more.