Chris Simon’s family says ex-enforcer died by suicide, ’strongly believes’ CTE played role

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Chris Simon’s family says the late NHL enforcer died by suicide.

And it “strongly believes” a progressive and fatal disease associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries is to blame.

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Simon killed himself Monday night at age 52, his family confirmed in a statement provided by the player’s former agent, Paul Theofanous.

Once one of hockey’s most feared tough guys, the six-foot-three, 232-pound forward from Wawa, Ont., compiled 1,824 penalty minutes _ including more than 100 fights — in 782 games with seven NHL teams across 15 seasons.

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Simon’s loved ones believe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) played a significant factor in his suicide.

“The family strongly believes and witnessed firsthand, that Chris struggled immensely from CTE which unfortunately resulted in his death,” the statement read. “We are grieving with the loss of our son, brother, father, partner, teammate and friend.”

The family added it won’t be releasing further details at this time.

“The entire Wawa community is sharing in our grief,” the statement read. “We appreciate everyone who shares in our tragic loss.”

CTE is associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries, including concussions and repeated headshots. Deaths by suicide and drug overdose are common among athletes in CTE cases. The NHL has repeatedly disputed any links between hockey and CTE.

A study of former NHLers published last year showed enforcers lived significantly shorter lives than their peers.

Researchers at New York’s Columbia University came to that conclusion after analyzing data from 6,039 players from 1967 through the spring of 2022.

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The study found enforcers died on average a decade younger than comparable peers drafted at the same rank, were of similar height and weight, and played the same position.

The researchers did not find more deaths among the NHL enforcers than in the control group.

“However, being an enforcer was associated with dying approximately 10 years earlier and more frequently of suicide and drug overdose than matched controls,” the study read. “Re-emphasis on player safety and improving quality of life after a hockey career should renew discussion to make fighting a game misconduct penalty in the NHL.”

Simon is the latest former NHL tough guy to die at a young age, joining the likes of Bob Probert, Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien.

The differences in causes of death between the enforcers and their fellow players was striking, the 2023 study found.

Two neurodegenerative disorder deaths, two drug overdoses, three suicides and four vehicular crashes were attributed to the 331 players identified as enforcer/fighters, compared to just one car crash death among the age-matched control group.

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Once a staple of NHL games, fighting has seen a steep decline as the sport has become faster and more skilled — but it’s certainly not gone, with fisticuffs coming roughly every four or five games.

The league has seen some big tilts this season, most notably involving hulking six-foot-seven New York Rangers rookie Matt Rempe, who dropped the gloves four times in his first seven contests.

The NHL suspended Simon eight times during his career for a combined 65 games. Simon was hit with a 25-game ban when he was with the Islanders for a March 2007 cross-check to the face of New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg.

He was then forced to sit 30 games for stomping on the leg of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu that December.

Simon, who was drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1990 and shipped to Quebec as part of the Eric Lindros trade, won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996 before making the final with Washington in 1998 and Calgary in 2004.

Known for his fists in an era when staged fights and intimidation were big parts of NHL life, he could also put the puck in the net.

Simon, who was of Ojibwa heritage and proud of his Indigenous roots, registered 144 goals, including a career-high 29 with Washington in 1999-00, to go along with 161 assists for 305 points.

He added 10 goals, 17 points and 191 penalty minutes in 75 playoff contests.

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