NHL players who fight live shorter compared to peers

Montreal –

A study of former National Hockey League players found that enforcers who dropped their gloves or spent more time in the penalty box lived significantly shorter lives than other enforcers.

Researchers at Columbia University in New York came to this conclusion after analyzing data from 6,039 NHL players from 1967 through last spring.

the study, Posted in JAMA Network Open on Wednesdaythe enforcers were found to have died, on average, ten years younger than their peers who were conscripted in the same rank, of similar height and weight, and held the same post.

The researchers did not find more deaths among NHL performers than in controls. “However, those who were enforcers died about 10 years earlier and had more suicides and drug overdoses than their matched controls,” the study said. “The renewed focus on player safety and improving the quality of life after a hockey career should reinvigorate the discussion of game cheating penalties in the NHL.”

The difference in causes of death between enforcers and fellow players was striking. Two deaths from neurodegenerative disorders, two drug overdoses, three suicides, and four motor vehicle accidents were attributed, according to 331 athletes identified as enforcers and combatants. In contrast, there was only one motor vehicle death in the age-matched control group.

Dr. Dave Ellenberg, a professor of sports medicine and concussions at the University of Montreal, said in an interview that the study strengthens the evidence for ending combat in hockey.

“Will this study be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? I hope so, but long before this study we had data that clearly supported the abolition of fighting,” said one of the study authors. Not Ellenberg said.

Ellenberg said the large sample size allowed the study to draw conclusions about the state of the athlete’s brain that were previously only accessible through autopsies.

“On a very large scale, we have identified some athletes who exhibit features of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) without necropsy,” he said.

CTE is a progressive, fatal brain disease that causes recurrent traumatic brain injuries such as concussions and repeated headshots. Suicide and drug overdose deaths are common among athletes with CTE.

Researchers led by Charles Popkin, Ph.D., of Columbia University Medical Center defined an enforcer fighter as someone who played in at least 50 bouts in their career and compared them to similar players who hadn’t. A second group of players who averaged more than 3 minutes of penalty time per game over their careers were compared to similar players who did not.

The number of matches and the number of expensive penalty hours were used to assess exposure to head injury. For both martial artists and heavily punished athletes, the average age of death was 10 years younger than the control group athletes who did not leave the box.

More than 90 percent of the players studied are still alive. However, the difference was significant between the 26 players who died in the enforcer group and the 24 players who died in the control group. The average age of death for combatants was 47.5 years, compared to 57.7 years for controls. Those who were severely punished died at 45.2 years of age, compared with a mean of 55.2 years for the comparison group.

Ellenberg said other smaller studies have shown the presence of CTE in National Football League players.

“What we’re seeing is protein deposition in their brains, which is a marker of brain damage usually associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” he said. “These people develop irrational and erratic behavior in later life, including aggression, anger, short fuses, suicidal tendencies, and often take their own lives.”

A new study raises big questions that researchers don’t have answers for. Fighters and athletes who took the most penalty time died an average of 10 years younger than their peers, but other teammates also died surprisingly young.

Ellenberg said he was upset to see the control group of athletes die, on average, in their mid-50s. “It’s very young,” he said, adding that the question deserves further study.

The study’s authors point out that the NHL is the only professional sports league where players aren’t ejected from games for fighting, citing research showing a decline in the number of games played since 1987. ing. “If there is evidence that fighting promotes spectator participation, winning and player safety, it’s time for the NHL to work with other professional sports to eliminate fighting,” they wrote.

This report by the Canadian Press Agency was first published on May 10, 2023.

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