Stan Mikita, the beloved former Chicago Blackhawk, has been diagnosed by his physician with short-term memory loss.
Mikita, who still makes public appearances on behalf of the Blackhawks, received the diagnosis sometime after December 2013. Monday he is expected to make a public appearance at the Comcast Sports Awards in Chicago. He turns 74 in May.
During his 22-year-career Mikita may have suffered from concussions, though how many cannot be determined. He played in an era when helmets were not mandatory.
Mikita told NBC Chicago he does not hold the game of hockey responsible for his memory problems.
"It's a game that has served me well and has furnished me with so many tremendous opportunities doing what I love."
Mikitia's family said "he is not certain if he had any concussions during his playing days because concussions were not diagnosed, tracked or recorded."
Things have changed since Mikita skated. The NHL began requirin helmets in 1979, and Mikita was the first veteran in the league to volunteer to wear one.
In 2011, the league instituted a concussion policy that reads:
“Players suspected of having a concussion will be removed from the game and sent to a quiet place free from distraction so they can be examined by the on-site team physician. The physician will use the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool test to evaluate the player. Symptoms include loss of consciousness, motor incoordination or balance problems, a blank or vacant look, slow to get up after a hit to the head, disorientation, clutching of the head after a hit or visible facial injury in combination with another symptom.
In the past, a player suspected of having sustained a concussion would be evaluated by the team's trainer or a doctor in the bench area. If a concussion was suspected, the player was moved to a quieter area for further evaluation."
Despite not knowing his own concussion history, Mikita's health gives him cause to support the NHL, the Blackhawks and USA hockey in their concussion initiatives.
10 former National Hockey League players are involved in a class-action lawsuit claiming that the league hasn’t done enough to protect players from concussions.
Drafted by the Blackhawks in 1958-59, Mikita was the first player who voluntarily wore protective head gear. The Slovakian was known as a scrappy player who wasn't afraid to fight early in his career though often joked he got smarter as his career wound down in 1979-1980. The 1979 draft class was the first mandated to wear protective head gear in the NHL
Mikita was the first Blackhawk to have his number retired by the team. A life size bronze statue of Mikita with fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Hull was erected outside the United Center three years ago at the time Mikita said it would take "100 years" to wipe the smile off his face.
Mikita declined to comment further, but plans to continue to serve as a Blackhawks ambassador. Monday he is expected to make a public appearance at the Comcast Sports Awards in Chicago.