The National Hockey League needs to take a good hard look at why two of its players, known for fighting often and hard, have ended up dead this year.
Earlier this month Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien, 27, was found dead in his home in Coleman, Alberta, Canada. He had suffered from bouts of depression for some time, and that ailment forced him to take two leaves of absence when he played for the Vancouver Canucks, as The New York Times pointed out.
A feisty fighter despite his relatively small size, 5-feet-11 and 190 pounds, Rypien had failed to show up for a physical for the Jets. His death was described as “sudden” but “not suspicious” by police.
Rypien’s death wasn’t the only shocking NHL fatality this year. In May, Rangers forward Derek Boogaard was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment. He was killed by an accidental overdose of oxycodone and alcohol. The 28-year-old had an addiction problem.
Both players were fighters. Boogaard was an enforcer who deliverd a lot of shots to the heads of his opponents, and he got hit in the head in return. Rypien wasn’t intimidated by bigger players: He took them on in fights on the ice.
Now both are dead, with Rypien the latest tragedy.
“Comparisons to Boogaard are uncomfortable and unavoidable,” The Montreal Gazette wrote. “Both players, who routinely absorbed blows to the head in the line of duty, are gone prematurely after encountering serious off-ice issues.”
At a press conference, the president of the organization Rypien once played for, the Western Hockey League, raised some of the hard questions that these two deaths present.
In the case of Rypien, the Gazette quoted Brent Parker as saying, “There’s no question he took some blows. Whether that was a direct (contributor) to his problems, I guess that’s for medical people to determine. I couldn’t even answer that, but it’s certainly something that I’ve questioned and asked over the last 24 hours, and I don’t think there’s any way you can’t.”
Brain injuries, blows to the head, can lead to depression.
Pro hockey needs to step back and find a way to help players address the stress, mental and physical, of the game. It may need to change some of the rules to help players. But the process needs to start before another young player dies.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
firstname.lastname@example.org :: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.