Former NHL player's family says he had CTE when he died by suicide

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Greg Johnson suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he died by suicide five years ago, his family announced on Wednesday.

The 12-year NHL veteran died by suicide on July 7, 2019, by a gunshot, 13 years after his final NHL game.

Johnson’s brain was analyzed by Dr. Ann McKee of the Boston University CTE Center.

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CTE is a brain disease that has been discovered to have occurred due to repeated blows to the head. It can only be diagnosed after death.

“This diagnosis took my breath away,” said Johnson’s widow, Kristin — the couple were married for 22 years. “Greg’s death shattered our world, and we never once thought this disease was something he struggled with. He experienced very few symptoms that we knew of, but he spoke of his concussions often. I remember the exact moment he told me his heart condition forcing him to retire was a blessing because he couldn’t take another hit. He knew his hockey career had a profound impact on his brain.”

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“I had no idea what CTE even stood for when my dad took his life,” said Johnson’s oldest daughter, Carson. “Now understanding that the hits he endured throughout his hockey career damaged his brain, I want all athletes to understand the risks and I want the NHL to start acknowledging it exists and do more to protect its players so other daughters don’t have to lose their fathers.”

Johnson’s youngest daughter, Piper, said she was “proud to have my dad’s legacy” contribute to CTE research.

“He truly was the best dad ever, and to lose him to suicide was beyond anything we could imagine. It was awful, but we want to talk about it to help others struggling know they are not alone, and there is help available,” she added.

Johnson played for the Nashville Predators for the final seven years of his career, where he served as the captain. He was drafted 33rd overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1989, but never played for them.

He was traded to the Detroit Red Wings in 1993, where he spent his first 3.5 years. He also played for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.

His brother, Ryan, played in the NHL for 15 years and is now the assistant general manager of the Vancouver Canucks.

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