September 02, 2011

Tough Summer

The apparent Wade Belak suicide was obviously shocking news. Outwardly he seemed so well adjusted, so personable, so at peace with himself. That should serve as a wake up call to fans who think they know their heroes inside out just by watching the nightly sports interviews.

It's been a tough summer for hockey, with three deaths amongst it's clan. All three were enforcers, which has led to so many calls to end fighting.

But what I find concerning is how so many people are quick to link hockey fights and the deaths of three of hockey pugilists in Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard. Bruce Arthur of the National Post offers the voice of reason, stating:

"Evidence matters, though, and there is no evidence that this had a damned thing to do with the fact that Wade Belak fought more than 100 times in the National Hockey League." He later adds "none of this means there isn’t a legitimate debate to be had over fighting, and the effect it has on some of the people who do it for a living."
He's right. For all the speculation about concussions and steroids and other substance abuse, the only confirmed consistency between the three deaths are they were hockey fighters who all died.

Boogaard was apparently accidental, mixing painkillers with alcohol. Rick Rypien had long battled mental illness, long before he was a hockey fighter. Belak's story still has to see the light of day.

Another hockey player took his own life this year, and no one blamed hockey on that one. Tom Cavanagh, a minor leaguer and former San Jose Shark and Harvard University standout, ended his life. He was previously diagnosed as schizophrenia. Aside from the lower profile, the only difference between him and Rypien was Rypien was a fighter.

Yes, the dangers of hockey are becoming more and more apparent. But let's not use these deaths as an anti-fighting soap box when there is absolutely no evidence that hockey fights played a role in their deaths in the first place.


Dustin said...

Thank you for mentioning Tom Cavanagh (I'm a Sharks fan) alongside the other three. Derek Boogaard aside (as the only non-suicide), I can't help but think that the deaths of the other three had something to do with their inability to cope with the reality of their marginalization in their respective hockey squads. In conjunction with their particular mental illnesses (schizophrenia for Cavanagh, depression for Rypien, an unknown demon for Belak), it appears it was a lethal combination. Tyson Nash hit the nail on the head when he said, "Your entire life is dedicated to hockey and then one day it's all over and you're kicked to the curb!"

Smoke said...

I keep wondering why people don't mention Barry Potomski along with these guys. I think 5 dead former NHL enforcers in 14 months is more alarming than 3 in the last 4 months. If people don't want to include Potomski because he only played 68 NHL games, I think that's short-sighted. People want to try and link the most recent trio as some sort of indictment of the fighting culture in hockey, despite the fact that all of them died under different circumstances. I think the bigger picture might have to include the effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE has been suspected of being a factor in depression and/or suicidal thoughts in numerous former athletes. I think if all of these men are tested and there is shown to be a link between CTE and depression then that's something that needs to be examined.