Skip to content

Former NHL player Greg Johnson was diagnosed with CTE

'He knew his hockey career had a profound impact on his brain,' the late Thunder Bay-born player's wife says.
Greg Johnson
Greg Johnson attended the Rogers Hometown Hockey celebration in Thunder Bay in 2016 (Tbnewswatch file)

BOSTON — The family of the late NHL veteran Greg Johnson has released the results of his post-mortem brain tissue analysis, which found that he had suffered from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. 

It's a brain disorder that can be caused in part by repeated injuries to the head.

Johnson, from Thunder Bay, took his own life five years ago this week at his Detroit-area home.

His widow and daughters issued a news release Wednesday through the Concussion Legacy Foundation, a charity that supports athletes and others affected by concussions and CTE.

The family said they want to raise awareness of the long-term effects of concussions and repetitive head impacts in hockey.

The 14-year NHL veteran's CTE diagnosis was made by Dr. Ann McKee, director of the Boston University CTE Center.

"The diagnosis took my breath away," said Kristin Johnson, his wife of 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."

Johnson, never used as an enforcer, was known for his work ethic as a two-way forward, and was respected as a soft-spoken, quiet leader.

He served as captain of the Nashville Predators, and also played for three other NHL teams as well as for Team Canada, with which he won a silver medal at the 1994 Olympics.

According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Dr. McKee was unable to definitively determine the stage that his CTE had reached at the time of death.

In early-stage cases, it is unclear if symptoms are connected to CTE, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) or other factors.

However, the CLF said the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. states that CTE is caused in part by repeated TBIs, and that leading scientists consider the presence of CTE to confirm exposure to repeated TBIs, which most often occur in the context of repetitive head impacts suffered during contact sports.

The statement noted that although suicide is complex and multifactorial, and a post-mortem CTE diagnosis should not be considered a cause of suicide, a 2019 study found that a diagnosed concussion doubles the risk of suicide.

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

The CLF said public records show that 17 of 18 NHL players studied in Canada and the U.S. have now been diagnosed with CTE, and that it has also been diagnosed in amateur players.

"I'm so proud to have my dad's legacy attached to this research and know the kindness and generosity he showed others during his life will continue to make a difference for years to come," said Johnson's youngest daughter, Piper Johnson.

"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."

Help is available for former hockey players and their families struggling with suspected CTE symptoms.

The CLF HelpLine provides free, personalized support to patients and families through doctor recommendations, peer support, and resources. Anyone who needs assistance can reach out at

Help is available across Canada 24/7 for anyone contemplating suicide, by calling or texting 988.



push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks