Researchers at Boston University found a degenerative disease in brain tissue donated by former NHL enforcer Bob Probert, according to reports in The New York Times and The Globe and Mail in Toronto.
Probert, a former Detroit Red Wing, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy when he died last July of heart failure at age 45. He played 16 seasons in the NHL and his 3,300 penalty minutes ranks fifth on the league's career list.
Probert 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, a 1960s enforcer who played before helmets became mandatory, also had CTE.
"How much is the hockey and how much is the fighting, we don't really know," Dr. Robert Cantu, the co-director of the center, told the Times for a story posted on its website Wednesday night. "We haven't definitely established that the skills of hockey as a sport lead to a certain percentage of participants developing CTE. But it can happen to hockey players, and while they're still relatively young."
CSTE is a collaboration between Boston University Medical School and the Sports Legacy Institute that is attempting to address what it calls the "concussion crisis" in sports. The group has been at the forefront of research into head trauma in sports, and has received a $1 million gift from the NFL, which it has pushed for better treatment of concussions.
The family of former Bears safety Dave Duerson agreed to donate his brain to the study after he committed suicide last month at the age of 50.
Chris Nowinski, one of the founders of the Sports Legacy Institute, declined comment when asked about Probert on Wednesday night. But he told The Associated Press the center would have an announcement Thursday morning.
The AP also sent an e-mail to NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly seeking comment.
Nowinski said last month more than 300 athletes, including 100 current and former NFL players, are on the CSTE's brain donation registry. There are 65 cases currently being studied.
Probert, who struggled to overcome drinking problems during his time in the NHL, played for the Red Wings from 1985-94 and the Blackhawks from 1995-2002.
Probert's widow, Dani, told The Globe and Mail she reached out to the Boston researchers and decided to make her husband's results public in hopes that "having Bob's name attached to that can show other athletes, and especially the hockey players, that they need to get involved."
Several of the NHL's biggest stars, including Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, have missed time this season due to the effects of a concussion.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said during the All-Star break that concussions are up this season, but quickly noted the increase seems to be caused by accidental or inadvertent situations, instead of by head contact from another player.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
APNP 03-03-11 0951EST