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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.

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)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Don permalink
    09/09/11 2:23 PM

    As always, great read, man…

    One possible solution would be to do away with fighting completely, but I think that could lead to even bigger outbursts by players who would have their hands tied. Frustrations could mount to the point where if someone finally does drop the gloves, the media blows things out of the water because now this player is committing an act that has been outlawed, however, had previously been part of the game almost since its inception. Then that player’s aggressive behavior and mental state comes into discussion and the questions start flying around that should they be banned from hockey all together? Also, with no ramifications of dealing with an enforcer, the possibility of cheap shots rises as well.

    They could put a cap on how many fights a player is permitted to take part in during the season, but then you may run the risk of having players, “Bank” their fights for when they play some teams so they can go after certain players. The end result, again, is the media having a field day with said player claiming every fight they are in over the course of the season is pre-meditated, which brings them back to the idea of doing away with fighting all together in a classic case of, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. One big circle of mess.

    Just my 2 cents, maybe I’m completely off with my view but I honestly don’t know if there is anything which could be or should be done in terms of the fighting aspect of the game. As for the substance abuse and player programs to offer assistance for those who need it, I think it is BS that a player is not able to go get the help they need out of fear of them being considered weak by their peers. WTF is this? High school? What it boils down to, players are just the same as anyone else in the real world; minus the money and fame in many cases of course. We all have our demons and sometimes we look forward to grabbing a cold beer out of the fridge after a retarded day at the office or to suppress some things from our past that may creep out from the closet from time to time, however, when you consider the substances that are available to an average Joe, compared to the volume at which they are available to an professional athlete or movie/rock star, the variance is mind boggling.

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