Drama hits the NHL… or is it just life?

It is not unusual to hear or read about celebrities having drugs or addiction problems, or even committing suicide, unable to chase the demons they find themselves surrounded with. It is not as often that we hear about professional athletes having those problems until them either break the law and/or take their own life.

This summer has been particularly tough for the NHL as the league has lost 3 players who passed away within only a few months of each other. New York Rangers’ forward Derek Boogaard was found dead and an autopsy revealed that the cause of death was a mix of alcohol and the pain killer oxycodone. A few weeks later, Jets’ forward Rick Rypien, who had left the Vancouver Canucks to deal with personal problems a year ago, was found dead. It was later reported that Rypien had suffered from depression and committed suicide. The NHL was still healing from that news than the hockey world learned of an even more surprising death, Wade Belak, who also took his life. Belak, married and father of two, was said to seem happy, competing in Battle of the blades on CBC and having landed a job as a color commentator for the Nashville Predators.

Many in the mainstream media and fans alike have jumped on the fact that all three were considered as tough guys whose role was to drop the gloves to protect their teammates and we have since heard and read from many former enforcers talking about the fears that they had playing that role. It seems to be the consensus that it is the role of enforcer that is causing those players to abuse drugs and/or suffer from depression, even to commit suicide.

Something tells me that it’s not as simple as we want to believe, even if those opposed to fighting in hockey are using this as a platform to push their cause. Don’t be fooled as more factors must enter the equation as in my mind, it simply doesn’t add up. Let’s face it: there are a few details that we know; there are other factors that we think we know; but there are a whole lot of other things that we have no idea about when it comes to their personal life. Oh I’m not saying that being an enforcer is a piece of cake, far from that, but there has to be more to it than what’s visible to the naked eye. After all, why are other celebrities in other facets of life having that problem? They’re not fighting in the NHL.

Of course, one could look at the “hockey factors”, such as their roles, the number of concussions, the demands for them to be fit, big and strong (drugs & steroids), injuries, mental effects of playing a physical game, length of schedule, etc. We could also look at the celebrity status as a factor, the pressure that comes along with it, the money issues by living the high life while it lasts, perhaps the fear that it could end, creating other financial problems in the meantime. Those factors would explain why many celebrities suffer from those problems.

In my opinion, it’s more than that. Those athletes are simply a reflection of our society. John Smith is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or commits suicide and you won’t hear about it. Yet, it’s just as tragic and it happens daily in North America and elsewhere in the world.

Medias and fans want to look at solutions? The NHL and the NHLPA want to help protect their players? What those people need is help. They need to be better informed on what’s available to them. They need to feel like there is no shame in requesting that help, by ensuring that it does remain anonymous. For so many years now, we’ve been focussing on physical injuries. The time has come to focus on mental health and that goes well beyond concussions. It’s no longer a lower body or upper body injury: it’s an above the shoulders injury and it can be healed!

And I will venture to say that a little faith wouldn’t hurt those people either…

En français: Le drame frappe la LNH… ou est-ce la vie?

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