Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Hidden Problem That Nobody Wants To Talk About

With the tragic passing of three NHL "enforcers" this summer, a huge debate has been sparked about fighting and the consequences on players who fill that dangerous and high-pressured role.

And that's a good, if not vital debate to have.

Yet perhaps an important point is being missed here, simply because talking about it makes people more uneasy than simply discussing a rule change or a hockey play.

It's convenient to think that eliminating fighting from the game will make these tragic stories go away, but is that really the main cause in these tragedies? Or is it a red herring?

It's no surprise that the rise of mental illness in NHL players coincides with the rise of mental illness in society (such as chronic depression, anxiety disorders etc.). Like Daniel Alfredsson said in his high profile campaign to raise awareness about these issues, everyone is eventually affected by mental illness, whether it's you or someone in your family or a friend.

The rate of fighting in the NHL has decreased over the years from its peak in the 1970's. There was no rash of deaths or suicides during that time or immediately afterwards. Yet even though fighting is a relatively minor part of the game in today's NHL, people are quick to link the tragedies and are finding a sympathetic ear from people eager to point to a simple solution to the problem.

Logically, with mental illness and depression being described by some doctors as a "pandemic" in today's society, are we really surprised that we are now seeing a rise in the once insulated world of the NHL?

It can't be ignored that Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak were all "fighters" during their career and it would be wrong to suggest that these types of players don't feel a special pressure that some non-fighters have to face.

That pressure is certainly contributing to their problems. People prone to mental illness will respond to pressure differently (and I'm not suggesting Belak had a mental illness - too little is known at this time to jump to conclusions).

Yet how do we explain so many ex-enforcers living normal, successful lives while others see their lives shortened by tragedy?  This would suggest the problem is much more complex than the easy explanation that fighting in hockey is ruining lives.

Why does a high profile athlete like ex-Blue Jays pitcher Mike Flanagan take his life? He wasn't an NHL enforcer.  A lot of athletes face depression after their careers end because they are not prepared for the everyday challenges that regular people face.

People are very quick to point to fighting as the main culprit but are much more uncomfortable talking about mental illness, perhaps because mental illness is not a black and white issue. There's no firm ground to stand on or a strong position to take against someone else. It's a grey zone and people don't know how to face it or explain it.

It's out of the ordinary for a high profile athlete like Daniel Alfredsson to talk about the issue in public. Maybe more of us should take a listen before running to the safest, least challenging and obvious position to make these tragic stories go away.

You could take fighting out of the game, but mental illness is here to stay. These stories will keep happening long after fighting has been banned unless more awareness is raised about the issue and steps are taken to help athletes fight depression, addiction and any other problems that plague the entire population, not just "NHL enforcers".



Anonymous said...

but fighting in hockey is also improving lives by giving so many people so much enjoyment....there are two sides to every coin twinkletoes. Now come down off your sissy opinion before someone puts a dress on you and calls you their girlfriend.

Anonymous said...


You have just lost the internet, you fucking retard.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the original anon.

Every player on every team should take a few shifts fighting. Who cares about how they might turn out afterward? It's always been in the game, and change is bad. As a former player said, they are perceived as pieces of meat so why not tenderize them a bit more? We're going to cheer them on (I know I do...) so...forget about health, mental acuity, reports of fighters feeling high levels of stress and dissociation.

It's all good. Belak, Boogard, Rypien, your lives didn't matter at all because fans want fighting more than they value your safety and well-being.


Jeremy Milks said...

3rd Anon: So what's your point? Fighting killed Belak, Boogard and Rypien? Are you so sure about that? I find it hard to believe medical doctors or psychiatrists are making anonymous comments on hockey blogs.

How do you get through an NHL game? When there are fights, do you turn off the TV? Or is this post-traumatic guilt causing you to throw an anonymous hissy fit? Hope you feel better and I'm glad I could provide you an outlet for your feelings.

Wooo Fighting indeed!