Brain issues of deceased CFLers differ

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:02 PM ET

TORONTO - Two former Canadian Football League players suffered from a brain disease that can lead to dementia according to a Toronto Western Hospital study on concussions and sport.

The findings are part of preliminary report released Tuesday by the Canadian Sports Concussion Project.

When they died, Bobby Kuntz, a former Toronto Argonaut and Hamilton Tiger-Cat, and Jay Roberts, a former Ottawa Rough Rider, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE.

CTE can also result in memory impairment, emotional instability, erratic behaviour, depression, and problems with impulse control.

Tests on the brains of two other former players, Winnipeg’s Pete Ribbins, and the Alouettes’ Tony Proudfoot, showed no signs of the disease. The report emphasized further study needs to be completed to demonstrate a link between concussions and brain injuries.

“It’s a great preliminary step. It’s initial information we can work with to develop policies, equipment and better protocols,” said Argonauts’ special teams workhorse, Bryan Crawford, who has been involved with the project as a CFL Players’ Association representative.

Ribbins and Kuntz died of Parkinson’s disease while Proudfoot died of a neurodegenerative condition known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Roberts, 67, who died in October 2010, suffered from dementia and lung cancer.

“While both of these men appeared to have pathological signs of CTE, they also suffered from other serious neurological and vascular-related diseases,” said Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, who performed the autopsies. “Right now we have more questions than answers about the relationship between repeated concussions and late brain degeneration. For example, we are still trying to understand why these two players acquired CTE and the other two did not.”

So, are players more inclined to perhaps donate their own organs for examination after they die? “I don’t know. I wouldn’t say I’ve heard a lot of that from my teammates,” admitted Crawford.

While he sustained his own concussion in 2006, Crawford doesn’t believe the link between hits to the head and brain injuries is a “worry” for players. But he does believe the study is a worthy undertaking.

“Football and sport in general can be a very challenging career when it comes to the body. You have to do everything under your control to take care of yourself. You also have to be honest with yourself if you sustain an injury, especially concussions.

“That’s part of the project, to change the culture around football so that guys are honest and do look out for teammates, and understand the risk that can be associated with this type of injury.”

Bobby Kuntz’ wife, Mary, donated his brain to the project believing the more players who donate their brains, the better the chances of helping future athletes.

“We’ve always had questions about Bob’s health, because there were so many conflicting medical opinions,” she said. “We knew there must have been some effect from all of the concussions over the years, and this was an affirmation that concussions did have a part in his health problems.

“Young players should know the risks of concussions. When you are young, you can’t believe what can happen to you when you are older, but we have lived though it. What is good about this study is that there will be more evidence and information for players.”


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