Wade Belak, Rick Rypien, and Derek Boogaard were all enforcers
in the NHL. God didn't bless them with the jaw-dropping natural
talent of Sydney Crosby or even the lesser-skilled players like Mark
Recchi. These players literally fought their way to the top, mixing
it up with other heavyweights to, hopefully, earn a ticket to the
highest-level. Fighting was the only way all three were going to
get to the NHL.
They fought to get, and to stay in the NHL, now all three are dead. Belak, and
Rypien took their own lives. Boogaard accidentally took a toxic
mix of painkillers and alcohol. Is it a coincidence that the three players
who died were all enforcers? Is it just an anomaly that all three of
them were tough guys who threw and took TNT-packed punches
to the head? Is it just a random thing that all three players suffered
from depression and mental health issues? There are a lot of
medical experts and people around the NHL who think not.
Belak, Rypien, and Boogaard all suffered concussions
from fighting during their NHL careers. As we've seen recently from
the suicidal deaths and subsequent autopsy's of former NFL stars
Andre Waters and Dave Deurson, repeated hits to the head
cause irreparable brain damage, leading to issues like depression,
dementia, and Alzheimer's disease.
If the recent deaths of Belak, Rypien, and Boogaard aren't a red-flag
to the NHL, then Gary Bettman's head must still have his head in
the sand. And remember, former NHL-renowned tough guy, Bob Probert,
died suddenly at the age of 45 last year. The subsequent autopsy
showed that Probert, like Duerson and Water suffered from degenerative
brain disease, most likely from repeated blows to the head.
The NHL is at a crossroads when it comes to player safety. Fighting
is part of the game, or so they so. Gary Bettman should take a look
at how the NFL has instituted new rules to try to decrease the number
of head injuries. Roger Goodell and company have tried
really hard to pay more attention to and try to protect players from
knock-your-lights-out type of hits Fines have been levied against
players who deliver helmet-to-helmet hits and the precautions
to allow players to return to action after suffering concussion is
now a lot stricter.
Some might say that hard-hits in football and fighting in hockey
have been in the game since they were first hatched. That is true.
But the games were never played with athletes who are as big,
as strong, and as fast as they are today. Television never does
the game justice. If you are on the sidelines or at field level,
you'll see that the impacts in the NFL are frightening. Same
with fights in the NHL.
Wayne Gretzky suggested to the NHL during the latter stages
of his career that the league should eliminate fighting. The number
of fights did go down for a while, but seemed to increase over
the last few years. Bettman knows that one of the reasons people
watch the NHL is for the fights. In a league starving for ratings,
there is no way it will ever be totally eliminated. But now is the
time for the NHL to do something drastic. Too many of its players
are dying and that's hardly good for its image.
It was sad reading the comments about Belak and the type of person
he was. The former tough guy of the Nashville Predators was remembered
as a bright, funny, articulate person. He was going to start a new job
as a commentator on television for the Predators. But the part that
stung the most, was the description of Belak as a great family man.
He was devoted to his wife and loved and adored to his two young
But the pain inside of Belak was apparently too much to bear, even
for a guy standing 6'5" and sculpted at 235lbs. The demons in Belak's
head after suffering crushing blows to his face during his NHL career,
were too much to handle. So in a luxury hotel on Wednesday night,
Belak hung himself to end it all.
Memo to Gary Bettman: Do something, before this happens again.