May 15, 2012
Former Bomber's brain donated for concussion study
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI AGENCY
Doug MacIver was the classic CFL nose tackle, a smart, scrappy Winnipegger who helped his hometown Blue Bombers end a 21-year Grey Cup drought in 1984.
His larger legacy, though, just might come alongside football greats like Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, NFL all-pros who left us far too soon.
Like Duerson’s already is, and Seau’s is expected to be, MacIver’s brain is in the hands of Boston University’s team of medical researchers looking into the long-term effects of concussions on athletes.
The decision to have their dad contribute came easily to MacIver’s kids when he died suddenly, at age 58, in January.
“My dad was a big advocate of education,” Andrew MacIver told the Winnipeg Sun, Tuesday. “Unfortunately, we have this opportunity now to help other people out. For our peace of mind to a certain degree, too. As much peace as losing him at 58 years old could bring. It would give some context to the story, if we can find out some of his erratic behaviour was because of this.”
Doug MacIver, who died of heart failure, was a fiery man who’d play with a broken hand if a game were on the line.
Or with a concussion.
“He said he suffered three major ones, that he knew of,” Andrew said. “He needed to be hospitalized once, for sure. He talked about another time that he had two guys sitting on top of his head and it felt like his head was going to pop like a pimple. Major back then was major.”
It was relatively minor changes in his dad that Andrew started noticing after he stopped playing.
But as they added up, the minor changes became an issue.
“His behaviour became a little bit more erratic,” Andrew said. “Sometimes he would blow up for no reason.”
Andrew and his brother, Doug, Jr., were aware of the connection between head injuries and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). The symptoms of CTE include confusion, memory loss, aggressive behaviour, depression and dementia.
The issue became front and centre in the MacIver home with the death of NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard last summer. Doug, Jr., a former hockey player, once fought Boogaard in an NHL pre-season game.
The boys talked to their dad about their concerns, and he shared them.
“He was the kind of guy who for the most part wouldn’t say a whole bunch about his condition,” Andrew said. “One day he told me, ‘I think something’s wrong with me.’ So for him to say that, there must have been something wrong.
“He didn’t feel like himself, or felt he was losing part of himself. He knew there was an issue.”
So did Duerson, the former Chicago Bears safety who shot himself in the chest last year and left a suicide note asking his brain be studied.
Duerson was found to have advanced CTE.
Seau, the former San Diego Chargers great, recently suffered the same tragic fate, his family reportedly agreeing to donate his brain.
A similar study of deceased CFL players is underway at Toronto Western Hospital, where former Bomber Leo Ezerins acts as a liaison for donors.
“When I do talk to families, most are relieved there’s an opportunity for their father, their husband, their son to leave a legacy,” Ezerins, who heads up the CFL alumni association, said. “Because typically the family knew there was something wrong, and they’ll do what they can to help research and prevent it from happening to other families.”
The MacIvers aren’t sure when they’ll get a final diagnosis from Boston, but they’ve already been told the nine years their dad played in the CFL’s trenches makes it all but certain he had CTE.
“They’re trying to understand it, first,” Andrew said of the condition. “And then maybe treat it.”
So 28 years after reaching the pinnacle of the game he gave so much to, Doug MacIver might be making his best play, yet.
On an all-pro team, no less.