Boogaard one of many athletes contributing to study of brain trauma and sport

CALGARY — The decision by Derek Boogaard's family to donate his brain to science is another example of athletes helping the medical world understand the effects of hits to the head.
Boogaard, who was found dead Friday in his Minneapolis apartment, will have his brain sent to a Boston University medical centre that studies chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head trauma.
The 28-year-old Saskatoon native's cause of death has yet to be determined.
In the three years since the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy was established at BU, the brains of 75 deceased athletes (half of them football players) have been analysed, according to co-director Chris Nowinski.
Among the deceased athletes whose brains were analysed were NHL player Bob Probert, who died at 45 last year of a heart attack, and Canadian pro wrestler Chris Benoit, whose killed himself at the age of 40 in 2007.
Nowinski, the main speaker Sunday at a concussion seminar in Calgary, is a former college football player and pro wrestler who suffered multiple concussions during his career.
He wrote "Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis" and is largely credited with bringing attention to CTE and a possible link to repeated head blows suffered by pro athletes in collision sports.
While Nowinski wouldn't comment specifically on Boogaard, he says athletes like him are contributing greatly to understanding the mystery of brain injury.
CTE was once termed "punch drunk" and less than 50 studies were conducted on the subject between 1928 and 2005, he said. Now, 400 athletes still living have committed to donating to the brain bank after their deaths.
"One of the best ways we're finding out the long-term effects of hits to the head is through actually studying the brain post-mortem," Nowinski explained. "A lot of the abnormalities we find cannot be studied in living people, so we really appreciate every family that's participated. They've changed the knowledge of CTE.
"It's very humbling and I have great respect for the families that have done it because they know a lot of times we're not even searching for answers to death. We're just trying to understand what sports has done."
Boogaard's agent Ron Salcer and a spokeswoman for the Boston University School of Medicine confirmed Sunday to The Associated Press that Boogaard's family made the donation.
Salcer says Boogaard was approached by researchers because he played combative style similar to Probert, whom the centre determined suffered from CTE. Boogaard missed the last half of the 2010-11 season with the Rangers while recovering from a concussion, although no link has been made between that and his death.
Boogaard, at 6-foot-8, 257 pounds, was a bruising figure not known for his offensive prowess. When he started his Rangers career, he hadn't scored a goal in 222 games. He finally scored again on Nov. 9 against the Washington Capitals, the only goal of his Rangers career.
In an interview in September with the Journal, Boogaard said his role on the ice was to "regulate things and keep things honest." He earned 589 penalty minutes in his career and was known as one of the NHL's premier fighters.
"When you met him, he was this huge, imposing, intimidating guy," Salcer said in a phone interview Sunday. "But he was really this kind-hearted, soft-spoken guy.''
Boogaard understood his role well. He ran an instructional camp in Regina, Saskatchewan, to teach youth hockey players the proper technique in fighting on the ice—showing them videos and giving them boxing gloves with which to spar. He was in seven fights in his 22 appearances with the Rangers.
The Wild planned to hold a memorial for Boogaard Sunday night. The funeral will be Saturday in Saskatchewan, Boogaard's home. The Rangers are determining ways to honor Boogaard after the funeral takes place.


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