Yet Another Take On The Suicide/Fighting/Enforcer Debate
If there was one universal topic every hockey journo, talking head, and blogger had an opinion on this summer, it was the trio of tragic deaths that struck the NHL community. Since Vulgar Stats mad genius Alex tackled fighting and the enforcer at his personal blog, I decided to write about my take on things here at Black & Blue & Gold. Hit the jump for talk about depression, addiction, treatment, and whether fighting should be given the boot altogether.
If you look at Boogaard, Rypien, and Belak, there may be common threads connecting two of the three but nothing concrete that connects all of them to each other save one detail. Boogaard and Rypien battled addiction while Rypien and Belak suffered from depression, but all three made their name in hockey by delivering and receiving punishing blows for a living. And in the end, all three wound up dead at far too young an age (I refuse to use the word suicide for all three deaths because, as PJ Stock suggested and then went silent about, Belak’s death may have been accidental strangulation. I frankly prefer kink gone horribly wrong to proven suicide). But was it necessarily the fighting that did them in?
In Boogaard’s case, it was pills and booze. Whether he was taking the painkillers for general hockey injury or for his recent concussion, the Boogeyman was far from the only NHLer to be abusing drugs. In a recent post for his NHL blog, Sports Illustrated writer Stu Hackel asked the question Does the NHL have a painkiller problem?”. Famed grinder Ian Laperriere and former tough guy Riley Cote, two men who know intimately the abuse bestowed by playing an extra-physical game, both answered in the affirmative. Both men definitely blame the black market much more than overprescription, but if perhaps they weren’t so wantonly-prescribed, less would be readily available to teammates. The circumstances of Boogaard’s death, while certainly preventable, may be the hardest for the NHL to police in the future.
For Rick Rypien, a decade of depression led him to take his own life. It was something he suffered with in private with the rare exception of his much-publicized leave of absence. For many depression-sufferers, just seeking treatment is the hardest part. It is a stigmatized disease that leaves many to endure their misery in the dark. The NHL does have a treatment program, which Rypien attended, but how effective is it? Is it private enough that embarrassed players can use it without having half the hockey world finding out? A private treatment program might do wonders for some depressed players. In the case of Rick Rypien, it might not have helped as he had attended it, but in the future it might help some poor soul who right now might not take advantage of it.
For Wade Belak, well, he was depressed too. But with PJ Stock positing that (through logical deduction) it might have been a sex act gone awry that took his life, it’s just too early to talk about him until the cause is made clearer.
Former Buffalo sports blogger @BfloBlog asked a question in the wake of these deaths that deserves to be talked about.
What if the fighters in the NHL have personality traits that make them predisposed to destructive behavior?—
(@BfloBlog) September 04, 2011
Is it perhaps the nature of the enforcer position that draws troubled individuals to it, rather than enforcing creating problems for the players who embrace the role? I’m inclined to agree with the former. One solution would be to completely eliminate the enforcer role from the modern NHL. The easiest way to do this would be to put a cap on fights allowed before suspending a player (as Alex suggested in his post). Another way to do this would be to eliminate fighting altogether, which realistically would be almost impossible I’d imagine. Either way, the league needs to do away with roster spots being given to guys who still have a job because of their pugilism skills even in the “new” NHL.
What do you think, loyal readers. Is fighting the problem? Just enforcers? Does the job cause the problem, or attract players with problems to it? Speak up in the comments. Let’s get a good talk going.
(Ed. note: Alex’s personal blog often features sensitive, taboo topics with aplomb. If you follow him on Twitter, you know what I’m talking about. Tread lightly, folks)