On May 13th, 2011, Derek Boogaard was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment. The facts resulting from the coroner’s report showed there was a deadly level of alcohol and oxycodone in his system. He was a tried and tested Dub player, fans still tell me horror stories of the things he’d do to our team when he played on Prince George and Medicine Hat later on. He put in five years of work in junior before heading out on a four year journey that eventually landed him a job with the Minnesota Wild.
Just this morning, an article was posted here bringing to light the severity of the pill situation, not only with him but with the league as a whole. It was a brutal kind of realization. Every new fact set a knot in my stomach, knowing stuff like this could have been, and can be, prevented. It’s a brutal truth; action is never taken until it’s too late.
At the same time I recognize the necessity for having pain killers readily available. Anyone who has played hockey knows it’s a taxing game, with as many or more cuts and bruises than any other sport. Go to any hockey team in any league and you’ll find the majority of the players are suffering from some kind of nagging pain that requires some kind of pill to alleviate it.
Now, seeing it in a second-hand sort of way, the degree at which pills are readily available is alarming.
Hockey players are warriors who cringe at the sound of being told “You’re gonna have to sit out a few games.” In our minds, it’s failure, you’re not doing your job if you’re sitting in the pressbox in a suit all game. Personally, I’ve been on both sides of the equation. I’ve seen guys go down for weeks at a time with every kind of injury. I’ve been knocked out of games in the same manner. In the second game of playoffs a few years ago, I tore my MCL and had to sit on the sidelines and hand away everything I had worked for that season. It’s heartbreaking.
Lest we forget, Boogaard wasn’t the only brother we lost last year. In the coming months after his death, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien were both found dead in their homes. A lot of people started connecting dots with the roles these players had on their respective teams. As one article quaintly put it; gladiators. A Maclean’s article by Charlie Gillis titled “Wade Belak’s final hours” states.
“Paul Dennis, a psychologist who worked with the Leafs during Belak’s tenure there, was quoted widely last week noting that enforcers feel compelled to maintain an aura of invincibility, and therefore keep their darkest fears to themselves.”
That was written just weeks after Belak’s death but I think it applies to athletes as a whole. Nobody wants to admit defeat and ask for help. It boils down to the same reason why guys don’t want to stop and ask for directions. It’s not because we’re stubborn, it’s because we’re conditioned to writhe at the thought of defeat. Jim Thomson, a journeyman NHL fighter who lent his services to six teams has said “As a fighter, you live in fear.” Legendary tough guy Georges Laraque has even gone to say “We don’t like to show weakness. That’s the way it is. But even tough guys have weakness.”
Couple that with growing studies of how chronic pain and depression are interlinked and it adds up to a serious problem. Something needs to be done, the NHL is doing a poor job of protecting its most valuable assets, the players.
Stay Thirsty My Friends,