I’ve been reading John Branch’s excellent, and sobering 3 part series in the NY Times, about the life and death of former NHL player Derek Boogaard.
As a parent with a kid playing youth hockey this hits pretty close to home. I can completely understand how the insular little cult of youth hockey in places like Saskatchewan, and Minnesota, can lead a person down a path like the one Boogaard followed. The system leads a player on, until they reach a point in their teen years when they realize that they don’t possess the skills needed to make it at the highest level. Most will quit the sport, and move on. But for a big guy like Boogaard, there is a back door into the big time.
Boogard was an “enforcer”, meaning, he was paid to be the goon. A towering 6′-7″ tall, and 260 lbs., his job was to be the designated fighter. In his 12 years of Junior, and Professional hockey, he was involved in upwards of 400 fights. Assume that in each fight he took an average of 3 punches to the head, and it adds up to a hell of a lot of head shots. Lord knows how many concussions he suffered, as the hockey code doesn’t allow enforcers to take time off for head injuries.
The 28-year-old Boogaard died in May of an accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone. Autopsy results performed on his brain, indicated that Derek Boogaard suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. In the past few years, four former NHL players Bob Probert, Reggie Fleming and Rick Martin previously were found to have CTE after dying at relatively young ages. CTE has also been diagnosed in 20 former pro athletes who suffered blows to the head, including football players and boxers.
Having taken my share of head shots in 1o years of football, and had a handful of concussions, I can’t begin to imagine what that must do to a person. Pain killer addiction would be a normal response. As a Dad now, I have to admit I’m happy that 20 Prospect Jr. didn’t have an interest in playing football the way that I did. Hockey, and Baseball provide enough chances for a head injury.
Hockey is a beautiful game, but fighting is an ugly reality. It’s endemic in Canadian Junior hockey, and the pro’s. With the exception of the thugs in the Russian KHL league, almost all other hockey countries and levels have banned it. Listening to the apologists for fighting like Don Cherry, and Gary Bettman, and hundreds of others is enough to make you sick. Especially when you realize that as a fan, you have cheered it on yourself, or laughed as it was glorified in the movies.
As the great Chief Joseph said, “From this day I will fight no more, forever.” Well, from this day, 20 Prospect will no longer support or condone hockey fights. It’s time to put the dark ages behind us. I’m in. Who’s with me?