CHICAGO — For 10 years, Daniel Carcillo tore up the ice and terrorized opponents as an enforcer in the NHL, winning two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks and earning the nickname “Car Bomb.”
The native Canadian said he gave the game everything he had since he first picked up a stick at the age of 4. He put it down when he was 30, retiring with two Stanley Cup championships, nine career suspensions, roughly 100 fights and seven diagnosed concussions.
He said the traumatic brain injury he suffered after 10 years in the league was a true game-changer. Now he battles off the ice for brain health, transparency and greater awareness when it comes to the great debate over concussions.
Carcillo, 34, is taking on the NHL head-on, blaming the league for where he is today. The former left winger said he has struggled with depression and anxiety since he retired from hockey.
"I have a foundation. I have a business. I have three beautiful children. A beautiful wife," Carcillo said. "Everybody’s healthy. I have a roof over my head. I’m financially secure. And yet, I’m thinking about driving off and killing myself."
Carcillo said he decided to work as an advocate for brain health after his body and brain took a beating in the NHL.
"I’m not cured. There is no cure for this," Carcillo said. "You have a certain amount of brain capacity, and once that’s gone, it’s gone. There are a lot of guys who are dead now because they didn’t understand.”
He said other players didn't understand the effects of head trauma and how it could have longterm effects following their jobs in professional sports. That includes Carcillo's former Blackhawks teammate and best friend, Steve Montador, who died four years ago at the age of 35. An autopsy revealed he was living with extensive Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.
The NHL is being sued by dozens of players over concussions and just how much the league knew about the effects. The current agreement would give each player named in the suit a one-time payment of $22,000, with the potential for an additional $75,000 for medical treatment. In the deal, there is no acknowledgment from the NHL that hockey could be contributing to bad brain health.
Carcillo is opting out, and Montador’s family is suing the league, too.
“Twenty-two grand is an insult," Carcillo said. "I will not settle. I will continue to fight, and I want treatment for the rest of my life.”
An investigation by ESPN recently laid out how evaporating insurance coverage could be the biggest threat to contact sports on every level. Without it, soccer, football and hockey could all face extinction.
Dan Burns insures celebrities and professional athletes in baseball, football, basketball and hockey, as well as 75 percent of the leagues' professional teams. Even though general liability and worker’s compensation are not on the company's menu for sports, Burns knows the business — and said it's not the insurance that's a threat to the sports.
"The longterm unknown effects of CTE or playing youth sports that involve contact or risk of head injury is the risk to the sports," Burns said.
He added that players are more willing than ever to walk away from a lucrative career because of the potential longterm risks to the brain. It doesn’t help that there is no clear-cut criteria when it comes to concussions or worse, CTE.
"Concussions and head trauma have existed for a long time," Burns said. "I think the correlation between it and long term neurological problems is relatively new."
Burns said the game has to change. Carcillo’s answer: Don’t change the game, inform the players. Through his nonprofit Chapter 5, Carcillo helps athletes transition into what he calls "the real world."
He launched a YouTube channel showing subscribers how they can treat traumatic brain injury. He plans to debut a podcast in February and recently started paralegal classes. He’s even working on a book.
His outspoken and unfiltered opinions about the NHL have cost him friends, money and relationships over the years, he said. But the empire he is building and the platforms he is using are designed to bring hope to the hopeless and shed a light on concussions like never before.
"I'm just getting started," Carcillo said. "I haven’t even really begun."
Carcillo launched his YouTube channel on Jan. 30, CTE Awareness Day. The channel's content will be devoted to bringing hope to those living and likely suffering from traumatic brain injury: athletes, veterans, first responders and even victims of domestic violence.
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