November 20, 2017
Thomas Penney

This is part two in a multi-part series about head injuries in sports.

One of the worlds most beloved authors, Ernest Hemingway, was a very bad amateur boxer. A.J Liebling, one of the greatest sports writers to ever live, said this of the celebrated author: “If a novelist who lived exclusively on applecores won the Nobel Prize, vegetarians would chorus that the repulsive nutriment had invigorated his brain. But when the prize goes to Ernest Hemingway, who has been a not particularly evasive boxer for years, no one rises to point out that the percussion has apparently stimulated his intellection.”

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Ten years after this quote, Hemingway shot himself.

No one knows, really, how a concussion affects a brain long term. There are famous cases that provide, perhaps, some insight but it really is difficult to make a definite determination. The media has been kicking around this narrative about disgraced Patriot’s star Aaron Hernandez. The story goes something like this: Aaron Hernandez, who killed himself in prison while serving life for various murders, had CTE. Perhaps there is a connection? The morally staunch have shot back at the implication, saying that his head injuries have nothing to do with his violent behaviour.

There is some evidence to suggest that CTE related degradation can lead to bouts of aggression. The more disturbing thing to note here is the absolute rejection of the notion, even with the mounting evidence. He is not the first athlete with CTE to have committed suicide, either.

 Ken Dryden has just published a book about Steve Montador, who slipped peacefully into death one day in his home, aged 35 years. His family is suing the NHL, alleging his time in the league caused his CTE and therefore his death. No one knows how exactly his body stopped working. His brother, Chris Montador, was quoted as saying, “he just either stopped breathing or his heart went.” He told The Hockey News back in 2015, “He was like a different person inside his body and it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart today. He wanted to be the same guy, but he just couldn’t.” This, in reference to changing behaviour he had noticed in his brother, beginning in 2011.

No one really knows how head injuries broke Steve Montador’s brain. It has been widely agreed upon, by players and doctors, that concussions killed him. It’s just, right now, we have no idea how.

Work is always being done to find out how concussions affect the brain long-term. If you have ever been in a semi-serious car accident you probably had one. Many of you will also notice that getting into a car accident is vastly unpleasant and is to be avoided. The average collision in an NHL game takes place at 23 kilometers per hour. Imagine, for a moment, that the present author strapped you into their car, and proceeded to drive said car into another, going 37 KM/h. You would call the police and have the poor author jailed, and rightfully so.

NHL players are asked to do this repeatedly, for about 20 minutes a night, 82 times a year.

The NFL is slightly less dramatic in their collisions, somehow. The average collision there takes place at about 25 KM/h, but the collisions are more frequent and usually involve the crown of the head taking a direct impact.

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Hemingway was an alcoholic, suffered from depression, and ultimately wound up on the action end of his favourite shotgun. Many have suggested that Hemingway’s suicide was, like his father’s, a result of hemochromatosis. The genetic condition generally results in physical and mental degradation. Surely, the time Hemingway spent as “boxer”, generally not defending himself well and taking many blows to the head, could have contributed to this. Hemingway was famously an extremely heavy drinker. Depression, alcoholism, suicidal tendencies, the paranoia Hemingway exhibited in his final years, and his inability to focus his thoughts are all traits found in CTE sufferers. Surely his genetic condition was largely to blame, but it would be foolish to disregard to the many head traumas he suffered as simply nothing.