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'Stop the violence and play hockey': Canadian Medical Association Journal

In an editorial published today, the interim editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal called on "all doctors to support a ban on all forms of intentional head trauma and endorse deterrent penalties in hockey."

Dr. Rajendra Kale, a neurologist, cited studies on the brains of athletes in hockey and other professional sports:

What researchers from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, Boston University of Medicine have found in the brains of three prominent hockey players -- Rich Martin, Reggie Fleming, and Bob Probert -- should be enough to sway minds to impose a ban on all forms of intentional head trauma, including fighting, with severe deterrent penalties such as lengthy suspensions for breaches.

In 2009, McKee and colleagues reviewed 48 cases of neuropathological verified chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and documented the findings of CTE in one football player and two boxers. To date, they have analyzed the brains of 70 athletes, and over 50 have had pathological evidence of CTE. ... The simple message done by the work of McKee and colleague is that the brain does not tolerate repeated hits.

... CTE is associated with memory disturbances, behavioural and personality changes, Parkinsonism, and speech and gait abnormalities. Hockey has now been unceremoniously added to the list of sporting activities that result in CTE.

... Scientists might argue that three sliced up brains is not enough evidence and that long-term cohort studies are needed to prove beyond doubt that hockey players are at risk of CTE. Evidence from boxing injuries collected over decades shows that repeated head trauma can cause brain damage. This evidence can be extrapolated to hockey.

Vested interested will no doubt lobby to prevent a ban on fighting, but I call on all doctors to support a ban on all forms of intentional head trauma and endorse deterrent penalties in hockey.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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