Bull rider’s suicide highlights the danger of concussions
Friday, February 03, 2017
The rodeo community is currently mourning the loss of 25-year-old sports bull riding hero Ty Pozzobon, whose suicide is thought to have come about during an extended period of depression and brain dysfunction that occurred after multiple concussive head injuries.
Concussion, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and brain health are serious problems across many sports. Historically, the brain dysfunction that occurs with CTE had been considered to be primarily a risk of boxers, but recently attention has also been given to the risk in other sports such as American football, soccer and even more recently bull riding.
Bull riding is considered to be one of the most dangerous professional sports, and the risk for head injury and concussion are high. Concussions account for 11 percent of the injuries for bull riders, and a combination of neck, face and head represent 30 percent of the injuries.
The mandatory use of helmets for riding has been adopted by the National High School Rodeo Association. Cowgirl and Cowboy events associated with the National 4-H require participants to wear a helmet. There are even campaigns targeting young rodeo enthusiasts to use protective head gear.
More and more participants in rodeo are adopting the use of a helmet, but the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association does not yet require bull riders to wear helmets unless born after 1994.
Pozzobon was the 2016 Professional Bull Riders Canadian Champion and had been a four-time Professional Bull Rider world finalist. He had adopted the use of a helmet during his professional rodeo bull riding rodeo career, but it was not enough to prevent serious head injury. He was knocked unconscious on more than one occasion in recent years.
In 2013, drawing the bull Carolina Kicker, Pozzobon was thrown and ended up unconscious and sprawled in the dirt. The next year, bulls Coyote 20 and Firecracker rendered him immobile on the ground. The same year, after a ride on Wreck Boot Strap, Pozzobon was walking but his helmet had been crushed by the bull.
Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgeon at the Toronto Western Hospital, discussed the untimely death of the athlete with Postmedia.
"Depression is a very common symptom in post-concussion syndrome," Tator said. "It probably occurs in 40 percent of people, and it can be treated. Psychologists and psychiatrists can help enormously. We have much improved treatment for depression than we did even 10 or 15 years ago. It's important for people to realize that if after a concussion they get depressed, it's not because of sadness. It's because of a brain injury, and that message hasn't sunk in with the general public."
Pozzobon had 14 top 10 finishes in the rodeo circuit and had earned more than $250,000 during his career. But at such a cost.
"It's important that people know about the implications of head injuries as a result of concussions," said Leanne Pozzobon, Ty's mother who found him after his suicide.
In an effort to better understand what led Ty to take his own life and prevent other athletes from suffering, the family has donated his brain for research.
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