With Three Players Dead, NHL Needs To Study The Impact Fighting Has On ‘Enforcers’


Posted on 5th September 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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On Aug. 31 I wrote a blog about the death of a Winnipeg Jets hockey pl;ayer, with the headline “Rick Rypien’s Death Should Be A Wake-Up Call To The NHL.”


Well, now you can add another co-called “enforcer” to the list of young hockey players, athletes who essentially made their living throwing fists, that have been found dead since this spring. Coincidence? I don’t believe in such coincidences.

Last Wednesday Wade Belak, 35, was found dead in a condo in Toronto. The Associated Press reported that it was a suicide.

Earlier this year, on May 13, Derek Boogaard, 28, was discovered dead in his apartment in Minneapolis. And on Aug. 15, Rypien, 27, was found dead in his apartment in Alberta. News reports labeled it a suicide.


Last week The New York Times took a look at this trio of deaths in a story headlined “A Deadly Riddle.”  That story noted that Belak alone was involved in 125 fights during his career with the National Hockey League.

In pro hockey, enforcers such as Belak and Boogaard, who was reportedly one of the most feared of his kind in the league, “go to war every day,” as sports agent Scott Norton told The Times. Enforcers are designated warriors, expected to intimidate opposing teams, and physically lay hands on rivals who take cheap shots at team mates.

Obviously that violent role takes a toll emotionally, as well as physically, on even the brawniest, toughest men.

Case in point: One former enforcer, Brannt Myhres, recalled being “curled up in a ball in a hotel room, scared to death for the next fight,” according to The Times.

So the question is to what extent, if any, serving as hockey enforcers contributed or lead to the deaths of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak. Some say it’s not a cut-and-dried issue.

The Times noted that while all three men were enforcers they were very different, as were the circumstances of their deaths. Boogaard, who sustained at least 12 concussions during his career, died of an accidental overdose of painkillers and alcohol.   

His family, suspecting that Boogaard may have been suffering from the same brain disease as a number of pro football players, sent his brain to Boston University for testing. A research center at that school has already determined that nearly two dozen former NFL players had a brain disease, a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE),  that’s been linked to concussions they suffered while on the field.

The results for Boogaard aren’t out yet, but BU has already found evidence of CTE in the brains of two retired NHL players.

Rypien had a history of depression. Belak was married and the dad of two daughters, and didn’t appear to have a history of problems.

The NHL needs to commission scientific research, and take a hard look at enforcers and the physical and mental impact that role has on them. Then the league needs to find ways to save the lives of these young men.



Golfer Seve Ballesteros Dies Of Brain Cancer


Posted on 14th May 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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A week ago champion golfer Seve Ballesteros, known for his “swashbuckling” style and for winning five major titles in his sport, died of complications of brain cancer. He was only 54.   


His unfortunate death is worth noting, in that it demonstrates the difficulty of beating brain cancer, which appears to be a particularly resilient strain of this disease.  

Ballesteros died in the Spanish fishing town where he was born, Pedrena.

His cancer was discovered after he became dizzy, and then unconscious for a short period, while in a Madrid airport in October 2008.  Ballesteros had four operations to cut out his malignant brain tumor.

 He was handsome, and had a dramatic career, even if it was brief. He stunned when, at age 22, he won the 1979 British Open. He did it “with a birdie he crafted on No. 16 despite teeing off into a temporary parking lot, where the ball landed 2 feet from a car,” according to The Los Angeles Times.

 RIP Seve.

Deceased Singer Phoebe Snow’s Two Battles With Brain Injury


Posted on 1st May 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Singer Phoebe Snow, a New Jersey native who was a one-hit wonder with her song “Poetry Man,” had to deal with two brain-damage tragedies during her life. And both probably contributed to her death last week at age 60. 


Her death in Edison, N.J., was caused by complications of what some called a stroke, and others called a cerebral hemorrhage, back in January 2010.

But Snow had to deal with brain-related illness long before her own medical problems. She gave birth to a daughter in 1975 who suffered from what one media report called severe brain damage, namely hydrocephalus.

Snow spent much of her life caring for her daughter, Valerie, after she sought — in vain — to find help for her.

“I went through phases of the occult and of trying to find every single doctor in the country who could possibly do something,”  Snow once said, according to The New York Times obituary of her. “I realize now that I can’t move mountains.”

Surely, Snow’s remark must strike a cord with other parents who have a child with any kind of brain injury. 

Snow wouldn’t lock her daughter, who wasn’t expected to have a long life span, away in an institution. But Valerie did live quite awhile, to age 31, dying in 2007.

Shock jock Howard Stern, in a unusually tender moment, last week dedicated his show to his memories of Snow, according to David Hinckley, who does a radio column in The New York Daily News.  

Stern speculated that Snow “died of a broken heart” — in that she was devastated by the death of her daughter. Stern said Valerie had become the “passion” in Snow’s life, who basically put her career on the back burner to take care of her child, according to Hinkley.

It’s a sad irony that Snow, like her daughter, was ultimately killed by a brain injury, just like her daughter. 

Physicians, Coaches Form Concussion ‘Cooperative’ Group


Posted on 3rd April 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Doctors, coaches, equipment makers and parents are teaming up to study concussions, forming the National Sports Concussion Cooperative, according to the Associated Press.


The first meeting of the new group is set for May, with the American Football Coaches Association, the University of North Carolina’s traumatic brain injury research center, Rawlings Sporting Goods and the Matthew Gfeller Foundation among those participating. They are the founders of the group.

The Gfeller foundation was created by the parents of Matthew Gfeller, a high school student who died of brain injuries he sustained playing football in 2008. The North Carolina research center is named after deceased youth.

The concussion cooperative wants “to create a sort of clearinghouse for information on sports-related brain injuries,” according to AP.

The idea is to pool ideas and make suggestions for : guidelines for returning to a game after a concussion; coaching techniques; equipment design; and incorporating research into the process.

It sounds like a plan.   



Minnesota Twins Morneau Describes His Comeback From The ‘Fog’ Of Concussion


Posted on 19th March 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau offers a marvelously articulate, and heartbreaking, account of the tough road back from a major concussion in an interview with ESPN.com. 


The story is great because it captures the nuances of what Morneau, and thereby others who have suffered concussions, must endure. It’s been eight months since Morneau was hit in the head by Blue Jays player John McDonald’s knee, and he is making progress but is still on the mend.

In the story that was posted online Friday Morneau, who is obviously a bright guy, talks about the frustration of waiting for his brain to slowly heal. He admits to being an impatient person. So it’s hard for him to deal with the fact that a brain injury doesn’t have a timetable for healing the way a torn liagment or a broken bone does.

Morneau is also wise, as is the Twins management, in that he is not pushing himself too hard. He knows that could ulitimately hinder his recovery from his concussion.

He vents a bit about the fact that the most run-of-the-mill activities — watching TV, going to a movie — all stimulate your brain. And as Morneau says, “When your brain is working, it is not healing.”

Morneau made two other cogent points. He noted that the “culture of sports” is one of “gritting it out” and playing with an injury, which is not an option with a concussion.

And then Morneau talked about how he saw the world, as if in a “fog,” the first few months after he sustained his concussion.

“If you’re going 65 miles an hour down the road and you look out your side window, everything looks like it’s just going by so fast that you can’t really focus on it,” he told ESPN.com. “Then you look out the front window and you see everything clear.”

Morneau is at spring training in Florida, and he is playing ball. But he would be the first one to admit that he doesn’t know what the future will hold for him this season. I wish him well.   


Decade-Old Football Helmets Are On Their Way Out For Our Kids


Posted on 12th March 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Parents who have kids who play football can rest a little bit easier: Manufacturers are going to stop refurbishing helmets that are more than 10 years old.

The New York Times reported that the trade association that monitors the refurbishing of old helmets, the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (Naera), on Thursday said it would no longer take helmets that were more than a decade old.


There is a rub. High school and youth football governing bodies only require that helmets pass a standard that has been set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (Nocsae). According to The Times, that basically means that old helmets can be worn by young players, even if those helmets are really not protecting kids from concussions the way they should.

Schools can have their football helmets reconditioned on a voluntary basis.

So what’s the bottom line?

“Naera’s decision to reject helmets more than 10 years old will force organizations to choose between purchasing new helmets or putting youngsters in used helmets known to be less safe,” according to The Times.

In fact, the newspaper quotes some experts that believe now old helmets will be put out of circulation.

Naera is reacting to pressure that started when the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) began a probe of football helmet safety. And Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., also requested that the Federal Trade Commission investigate the two major helmet makers, Riddell and Schutt, for allegely making false claims about the safety of their helmets.

There has also been a call in Washington for a hearing on football helmet safety, including the use of old helmets, The Times reported.

Even though experts warn against the safety risk of using old helmets, the National Federation of State High School Assocations has lets schools decide what kind of helmets they want to use, including old ones. Why? New helmets cost more than refurbished ones. 

School budgets are getting cut these days, but someone better find the funds to pay for gear that protects our kids.    

Florida Youth Winds Up Brain-Dead After Soccer Accident


Posted on 21st February 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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 Add this to the list of senseless deaths of kids playing sports like soccer. 

A youth who sustained a brain injured during a soccer game last week in Jacksonville, Fla., has been declared brain dead.


Josh Walter sustained traumatic brain injury during a soccer game last Tuesday at the Jeb Stuart Middle School and was air-lifted to get medical attention. Walter had remained in critical condition, and a test Sunday found he had no brain activity. 

He is being kept on a respirator so his family can donate his organs.

The website of his church, Highlands Baptist Church, said, “Please pray for the family and friends of Joshua Walter in his passing. Details will be added as we receive them. Thank you.”



Consumer Commission Vows To Press For Stricter Football Safety Standards


Posted on 4th December 2010 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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 The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) testified in Washington last week that it plans to work toward the speedy development of new safety standards for football helmets, especially for children, The New York Times reported Friday.   


CPSC chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum made her remarks before a Senate Commerce subcommittee Thursday, which was conducting a hearing that was mainly focused on the safety of cribs and toys.

Tenenbaum testified that the CPSC was in talks now with the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, which regulates helmets, The Times said. That body’s safety standards have been in place for decades, and were aimed at protectng against skull fractures, not injuries such as concussions.

The CPSC will work with the standards operating committee in January “to monitor and accelerate their efforts to update the appropriate standard,” Tenenbaum said.

The CPSC has a lawmaker breathing down its neck, namely Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. He asked the CPSC to get involved in the creation of new helmet standards. Right now, the same guidelins apply to helmets for young boys and NFL players.   

 Udall has also been back and forth with the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee, which is thinking about creating a separate helmet standard for professional football players, according to The Times.     

New Jersey Youth Sustains Brain Injury From Fall At Rutgers Game


Posted on 15th November 2010 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Stunts that just seem to be playful can often turn dangerous, as a 20-year-old New Jersey man found out Saturday. 

Nicholas Amabile of Florham Park. N.J., remained in critical condition Sunday from head injuries he sustained when he fell down a flight of stairs at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, according to The Star-Ledge of Newark Monday.  

Amabile isn’t a Rutgers student, but he attended the Scarlet Knight’s game against Syracuse University on Saturday. According to Amabile’s friend and witness, Anthony Pryer, they were leaving the game in the second quarter when Amabile suddenly decided to slide down the staircase railing. 

Amabile fell about 30 feet and was knocked unconscious. He was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center in New Brunswick, N.J., where he remained.

Authorities wouldn’t comment on the extent of his head injuries.                                      



In A Case Worthy Of ‘House,’ Mom Was Put In Coma Five Months Until Diagnosis


Posted on 8th November 2010 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Doctors put Donna Landrigan in a coma for five months as they struggled to find out what was wrong with her.

Landrigan’s tale was chronicled by AOL Health, kicking off with the painful headaches that the mother of three, then 35, was suffering from for almost a month until she finally collapsed on her kitchen floor.


But as Landrigan’s case demonstrated, diagnosing a brain malady can play out like an episode of “House.” Physicians for months were stymied and couldn’t determine exactly what was wrong with Landrigan’s brain. Ultimately, she received treatments at four hospitals in several different states.

Doctors initially thought that Landrigan has encephalitis, or swelling of the brain due to infection. But tests came back negative. Then physicians believed that the young mother had nonconvulsive status epilepticus, which entails seizures and kills more than half the people who have it. But that diagnosis didn’t pan out.

At that point, doctors put Landrigan into a coma using propofol, the powerful anesthetic that killed pop superstar Michael Jackson. They did it because they feared that her brain could not continue to withstand the seizures she was having. Later, doctors put Landrigan into an even deeper coma using pentobarbital.

 The woman’s condition worsened, and doctors then went on to a new diagnosis: That one of Landrigan’s own antibodies was injuring her brain. 

That, it turns out, was the answer. Landrigan had anti-NMDA receptor antibodies, which can attack brain nerve cells, according to AOL Health. These antibodies typically appear when someone has a teratoma, which is a kind of tumor that people get in the ovaries or testes. 

Doctors removed Landrigan’s ovaries and fallopians tubes, and discovered that she did in fact have a benign teratoma. Her diagnosis was anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Landrigan was then slowly brought out of her induced coma.

Although her seizures ended once her tumor was removed, Landrigan is not back to her old self. A year after being taken out of her coma, the mother, now 36, remains in a wheelchair and has nerve damage, according to AOL Health. She still expects to walk one day.