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CBC: Rick Martin had Degenerative Brain Disease, Ramifications for NHL Unclear (Video)

It’s sobering news on opening night for the NHL.

But it’s perhaps the most important news we’ll get about hockey all season. Yesterday, news broke out that Rick Martin had suffered from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a degenerative brain disease normally linked to those who have suffered multiple concussions.

The problem is, Martin wasn’t a fighter. He only had one (recorded) concussion.

Rick Martin is taken off on a stretcher after his head struck the ice during a game against the New York Rangers in February 1978. Mickey Osterreicher/Buffalo Courier Express/Associated Press

As the CBC’s “The National” described last night, that could change the way we play hockey, and sports altogether.

Neurosurgeon Robert Cantu, who co-founded the institute and is co-director of the CTE centre, told CBC News the findings in Martin’s case are alarming because he only suffered perhaps one concussion in his career, unrelated to fighting.

“What I can tell you bothers me: The first two cases in the National Hockey League, Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert [were] renowned fighters, 400 recognized fights during their ice hockey career, God knows how many in bars,” Cantu told CBC’s Stephanie Jenzer in an documentary airing Wednesday on The National, in which CBC News was granted rare access to the brain centre’s lab.

“And so the amount of brain trauma they took from fighting was horrendous. And it could be thought logically that their CTE is related to their fighting. And indeed it possibly is.

“But 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.”

That’s a giant alarm bell for the culture of the game, for anyone playing the game, and especially for anyone who is bringing kids into the game. More research must follow to further delve into this problem – and perhaps uncover some kind of cure – but for now, those in the sport of hockey need to audit the way they protect their heads, and the heads of those they coach, old or young.

Click the link above to watch the 20 minute report.

Tonight, it’s a new season and a fresh start for the good ol’ hockey game. As for the future of that game, well, that’s a bit unclear right now. Almost as if our world just got a little bit concussed.

Meanwhile, the research on CTE and sports continues at Boston University. Click here to check it out, and to learn more about fundraising activities, leadership gifts, or to help raise money for research.

Go Sabres.

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