Then, every single enforcer was compared against another NHL player of similar size, age, position, and overall number of career games but who was not an enforcer.
This comparison revealed no significant difference in the death rates of the two groups, equating to approximately 4%.
However, it was found that, on average, enforcers died at age 47 as opposed to age 57 in the comparison group.
And among the 21 enforcers who passed away, three players died of suicide, two players died of a drug overdose, and two players died due to degenerative brain disease.
On the other hand, no player from the comparison group died due to any of those causes. Instead, cancer was the most common cause of death.
Due to these findings, Popkin has begun to question whether chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has played a role in the death of enforcers.
According to the Mayo Clinic, CTE is a brain disorder believed to be caused by repeated head injuries.
“It causes the death of nerve cells in the brain, known as degeneration. CTE gets worse over time. The only way to definitively diagnose CTE is after death during an autopsy of the brain.”
CTE has also been linked to other manifestations– such as aggression, personality changes, impulsive behavior, and depression– and has been a topic of much debate in the National Football League (NFL).
Still, the researchers claimed it is impossible to determine whether the deaths of enforcers within this study could be traced back to CTE.
According to Dr. Jesse Mex from Boston University’s CTE Center, it is likely that enforcers suffered a greater amount of head impacts as opposed to the comparison group. Although, without any brain autopsy findings, it is not possible to determine the role CTE played for sure.