A career of concussion

Alan Globensky, hockey’s reluctant enforcer, must deal with a lifetime of brain trauma

Alan Globensky cannot count the numerous blows to the head that he received during the 1970s while playing for several hockey leagues, including three seasons as a defenceman with the Quebec Nordiques of the defunct World Hockey Association. Most of the blows he does not even remember, which could be a consequence of his brain receiving so much repeated trauma.

“About 15 or 20 years ago, I started questioning my memory,” says Globensky, 67. “I could remember tough personal events, but other things were vague.”

What is clear to him are the consequences of a life of blows.

“Depression, seizures, memory loss, sleeping problems – a great deal of some of these negative things I’ve been through were caused, I think, by football and hockey.”

As a kid, he preferred football to hockey, both sports in which knocks to the head were common. He started his serious hockey career with the Montreal Junior Canadiens at a time when no Canadian hockey players wore protective helmets, certainly not professional players.

“Protecting the head wasn’t even thought of,” recalls Globensky. “It might have been looked upon as a badge of courage when you got your bell rung. You came back to the bench wobbly, and three or four shifts later, boom, you’re back out there.”

In both the 1969-70 and 1970-71 seasons when Globensky was with the team, the Junior Canadiens won the national junior championships, the Memorial Cup. He was the team’s enforcer, a player who used brute force to protect his teammates. Later in the 1970s, he played for parts of three seasons with the Quebec Nordiques.

“In the late 1960s and early 70s is when hockey, I think, decided it needed more violence like bench-clearing brawls. If I saw my teammate getting into a fight, I got off the bench and went to protect him. That was my job.”

The NHL has since introduced rules that harshly penalize players who get involved in a teammate’s brawl. The rule has probably saved many players from receiving debilitating head shots. Players nowadays also wear better protective gear than in Globensky’s day.

“Back then, we had leather shoulder and elbow pads. The gloves were leather, too, but not as big and hard as today’s. The ice surface is better today, and the boards and glass do give way a little. But the fact that players today are so much faster and bigger negates the safety measures.”

Although in his playing days Globensky wore a huge afro haircut and sported a big mustache as a way of “staring people down,” he insists that he was a reluctant fighter. Indeed, when Globensky played in Europe for Finland’s Lukko Rauma team during the 1977-78 season, he was more impressed by the skill of the players than by any physicality that they showed.

“If the NHL adopted their rules, we would have so much less violence. But the NHL doesn’t want to change anything.”

Following his hockey career, Globensky worked for several years as a fireman in the U.S. State of Maine. He battled alcoholism. Doctors gave him pills for depression. At one point he even contemplated taking his own life.

Several former enforcers in the NHL did commit suicide. An article in 2015 in The Montreal Gazette reported on the suicide of 49-year-old former Montreal Canadiens enforcer Todd Ewen, who had apparently suffered from depression for years. The article cited five other NHL enforcers who had come to the same end in the previous five years.

In the past decade or so, Globensky has seen at least eight neurologists. Living once again in Montreal, in the past year he has undergone painful chemotherapy sessions to treat three different cancers. Not all of his ailments might be linked to his history of head trauma, but it is clear enough to him that all those blows left a painful legacy.

He finds some measure of solace in passing along his experience to people at concussion groups.

“I tell them, ‘If your kid gets a concussion, make sure you bring him to the hospital.’ You might even get them tested before the season starts so you know where your starting point is. And tell them, ‘These sports are dangerous.’”

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