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|Making sense of a miserable summer|
|Written by Denis Gorman|
|Thursday, 08 September 2011 21:21|
While the hockey world mourns the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crash, a challenge lies ahead: Digging up the root cause of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak's premature deaths.The awful news was first announced on Twitter and then arrived in the form of an email: Derek Boogaard was dead.
Ninety four days later, a statement on the premature death of Rick Rypien was released.
Sixteen days later, a press release reported that Wade Belak had passed away.
Time seemed to stop when each of the three reports first filtered out into the public domain. It happened again Wednesday following the horrific news that a plane carrying the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed and 43 of the 45 people on the flight died.
According to the Associated Press, two people – right wing Alexander Galimov and “an unidentified crew member – who were on the flight are now at Solovyov Hospital and are said to be “in very grave condition.”
It has been an awful summer for hockey as too many of its athletes have died. In the immediate aftermath, it may be comforting to try to find a common thread in order to understand the unimaginable.
The cause of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is believed to be an outdated aircraft, substandard air traffic policing and training by the Russian government. A grudging acceptance of the facts can help those looking for answers come to rationalizations, however distasteful they may be.
The circumstances are far less understandable with Boogaard, Rypien and Belak.
All three were relatively young – Belak being the oldest at 35 – and strong and had financial resources available to them. Their other common bond was all were enforcers in the National Hockey League.
As was written here in July, “fighting is hockey’s most emotional topic du jour.” Simply, either you’re for fighting or you’re against fighting.
Those supporting fighting – chief among them, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke – believe that the bouts allow for a cleaner, more “honest” game.
Detractors believe it is barbaric and ridiculous for two grown men to grab a hold of the other’s jersey with one hand and throw haymakers with their free hand while balancing on skates. The detractors point to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Olympics as examples of how mesmerizing and compelling the sport can be without fighting.
There is no doubt that fighting takes a physical toll on the men filling those roles. A brief glimpse at a combatant in a dressing room following a game in which they fought shows red, swollen hands; noses that have been broken repeatedly; stitches and scars; missing or broken teeth; Ace bandages and bags of ice.
Far less known are the short and long term emotional and psychological tolls these men pay to perform their tasks. The impacts will be unknown until the findings of a joint NHL/NHLPA investigation into causes of the deaths are made public.
"While the circumstances of each case are unique, these tragic events cannot be ignored," a recent statement from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr read. "We are committed to examining, in detail, the factors that may have contributed to these events, and to determining whether concrete steps can be taken to enhance player welfare and minimize the likelihood of such events taking place. Our organizations are committed to a thorough evaluation of our existing assistance programs and practices and will make immediate modifications and improvements to the extent they are deemed warranted."
It is important to ensure that every reasonable step and precaution is taken to make NHL Players, and all members of the NHL family, aware of the vast resources available to them when they are in need of assistance. We want individuals to feel comfortable seeking help when they need help.
"NHL Clubs and our fans should know that every avenue will be explored and every option pursued in the furtherance of this objective.”
The NHL/NHLPA statement is a first step into an investigative process and it would be terribly wrong to pass judgment on the organizations’ reaction to the deaths. It would be equally wrong to blindly accept the organizations at their word.
The NHL and NHLPA must be held accountable to themselves, their organizations, their players, their fans, and, most of all, the families and friends of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak.
While we may never understand why they left us too soon the trio may give the hockey world a far more valuable gift: the root cause.
On Twitter: @hockeyprimetime and @denisgorman
Airplane crash photo by Getty Images
|Last Updated on Thursday, 08 September 2011 22:32|