I haven’t yet weighed in on the recent deaths of Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien but with the passing yesterday of Wade Belak I have decided to let my thoughts be heard.
First off, it has been a sad summer with the passing of these three players and my sincere condolences go out to their families and friends. Regardless of the circumstances, any death is a sad and somber event but even more sad and somber when the deaths are sudden and seemingly avoidable.
The above should be the number one thought on everybody’s mind today but clearly these three players are public figures who played a common “tough guy” role in the NHL and that has led some in the media and the general public to start to speculate as to whether there is a link between fighting in the NHL and these deaths. While it is fair to suggest that the possibility of a link needs to be investigated and researched, we have to be extremely cautious to suggest that there is, or even likely is, a link. The truth is, we don’t know.
Are the deaths of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak linked in any way to their roles as tough guys in the NHL? We don’t know.
Do concussions (as a result of fighting) in some way lead to depression? We don’t know.
Are hockey players who suffer from depression more apt to become fighters as a way to feel accepted? We don’t know.
“We don’t know” is the proper answer to all those questions (and many more) and we all should avoid making any speculative claims about anything at this point. Only when we put the speculation and suggesting behind us and accept “We don’t know” can move to seeking serious and important answers to the questions above. So with that, my request to the media is to stop the speculating and expressing of personal opinion and start to seek out serious answers. Maybe I have missed it, but I have yet to hear or read about many (or any) interviews with experts in the field of concussions and/or depression and/or substance abuse in an attempt to connect the dots. Doing so would truly move the discussion a step forward.
Update: This post by Kent Wilson at Houses of the Hockey blog is a worth while read and something I would consider “a step forward” in the discussion.