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Bob Probert's Broken Brain

"For 16 seasons, Bob Probert's fists were two of hockey's most notorious weapons, winning most of his 246 fights and feeding the N.H.L.'s fondness for bare-knuckle brawling," the New York Times reports.

"But the legacy of Probert, who died last July of heart failure at 45, could soon be rooted as much in his head as his hands. After examining Probert's brain tissue, researchers at Boston University said this week that they found the same degenerative disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, whose presence in more than 20 deceased professional football players has prompted the National Football League to change some rules and policies in an effort to limit dangerous head impacts."


Probert's fights.


From Probert's book, Tough Guy: My Life On The Edge, which lists every fight he had in the NHL:

"Tie Domi was a little fucker, and I figured, 'Why not?' You know? I didn't have to fight him, but I said, 'Aw fuck, let's go. Give him a chance for the hell of it, eh?'

He was saying to me, 'Come on, Bob, Macho Man wants a shot at the title.' He called himself Macho Man, like the big-time wrestler. I said, 'Ah, you little fucker, okay, come on!' He got lucky when he grazed me and I got cut just above the eye. He didn't really hit me, just wandered through with a left. It didn't even hurt or anything. Whole thing only lasted about thirty seconds because the refs jumped in before the fight really got going. So he skates to the box and he pretends like he's putting on the heavyweight championship belt, a hot-dog move.

"Later, the coach, Bryan Murray, asked me, 'What the fuck are you wasting your time with that little goofball Domi for? You've got nothing to prove.'

"'Aw fuck,' I said, 'I gave him a shot.'

"Murray said, 'Bob, you should know better.'

"Yeah, I fought. I think that helped me make it into the league, because they saw that I could play and also fight - do both. It's kind of a rarity in today's game. Guys who can do both now sign big contracts. I wish I was playing today. Not just as far as money - I was happy.

"A lot of people are down on fighting in the NHL. They say it doesn't belong in the game. But like Don Cherry says, 'When Probert was fighting, did you ever see anyone get out of their seat and go for coffee?'"


"The young kids were still coming after me - fast and furious. But nothing beats experience. If I grabbed a guy with my arm out, he couldn't really hit me, unless he had a long reach. Another important thing was being able to take a punch. I had to sacrifice a couple to the head and body sometimes to get to the position I needed to be in. But then I could take it from there."


"The most fights I had in a season was twenty-three. That was in 1987-88. There were eighty games in a season, so that was roughly one every four games. And that's like a high season. My average was probably around twenty, and then one year, including playoffs, I had maybe twenty-eight fights."


From veteran hockey writer Joe Lapointe, on AOL:

"As a Red Wing, Probert was a cult figure for a franchise just beginning to build a hockey powerhouse after two decades of mismanagement. Fans nicknamed Probert and Joey Kocur 'The Bruise Brothers;'' they were a tag-team act in a sport that sanctions fights as a quasi-legal side show. To games at Joe Louis Arena, fans wore T-shirts that showed a red cross and the words: 'Give Blood, Fight Probie.' Before the Internet and YouTube, Probert's fight tapes were prized among traders of bootleg videos, suitable for bachelor parties or fraternity houses. Perhaps the most memorable can be found through Internet search engines as 'Hockey Fight: Probert vs Domi Rematch.''

"It was his second bout with Tie Domi of the New York Rangers, staged in December of 1992 at Madison Square Garden, that old boxing mecca. The video shows Probert throwing about 45 punches in about 45 seconds, most of them right hands and many of them landing. The replay right afterward shows Steve Yzerman - then the Wings captain, now the general manager of Tampa Bay - mocking Domi by pretending to put on the heavyweight championship belt that Domi had claimed in a prior battle. In the big scheme of hockey's vigilante justice, Probert was there to protect the superstar Yzerman; and Yzerman was honoring his teammate and his role.

"One of the Big Myths in sports spread by the media is that 'hockey goons are really the nicest guys in sports.'' A few may indeed be friendly, but the role often attracts large, violent young men from disturbed homes who channel their aggression into a sub-genre of a sport for personal profit and public amusement. When they are used up, like all athletes, they are cast aside."


Comments welcome.

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