Ok......this is one tragic summer in the hockey world. First Derek Boogaard. Then Rick Rypien. Now Wade Belak. I say this with all sincerity....
WHAT THE FUCK?
It is incredibly tough to face the possibility that such a beautiful game - the same game that we all worship for its speed, toughness, athleticism, excitement, and FUN - the same game that helps us perpetually feel like a kid - could torment its players so much.
We must first acknowledge that it might all be a horrible coincidence. Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien died from different causes. We do not know the official cause of Wade Belak's death.
There are, I'm sure, statisticians or economists or cultural anthropologists (or whoever) that can argue that these three tragic deaths had nothing (or very little) to do with their time on an ice rink.
Maybe the spike in deaths for hockey players 35 and under is in-line with the spike in deaths for the entire population of people 35 and under.....
Seriously, though, who cares?
The fact remains, all three were hockey players. All three were fighters. All three died this summer.
Even if it turns out to not be necessary, better safe than sorry. Now is as good a time as any to have a deep, introspective look at the lives of hockey players.
How widespread of a problem are painkillers? Are they over-prescribed? Do teammates pass them around to other teammates? Do players know not to mix them with alcohol?
How widespread of a problem is depression? Do players have access to counseling? Are they even aware how to spot depression in themselves? Is there a stigma about getting help for depression?
How widespread of a problem is retirement-related depression? Do players feel like they are abandoned by the NHL once their playing days are over? Can they find a "2nd life" and are they equipped for it?
What about fighting? Is there long-term damage to the brain? Does that impact a player's mental health? Do they simply develop a guilty conscience and depression regarding having to beat people up for a living?
What about alcoholism, drug abuse, spousal abuse, you name it?
I could go on and on and on. The point is, if I'm Gary Bettman or part of the NHL-brass, I'm making damn sure that behavioral health systems are updated, robust, made available to all players, and players know it.
And I wouldn't even stop at the NHL-level. I would go all the way down to juniors.
One could argue that if somebody grows up depressed, starting to get counseling when they hit the NHL is too late. The counseling needs to be made available from the beginning.
If it means supporting community-wide mental health programs (as opposed to just ones for hockey players) so be it.
If it means getting rid of fighting, then it means getting rid of fighting.
If it means partnering with Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew - then that's what it means.
If I'm Gary Bettman - this is priority #1. Whatever is #2 is a distant #2 at best.
Three lives is three too many. I'm sick of this shit. The game is too beautiful.
When I think of hobbies that will keep me engaged as a senior citizen - continuing to watch hockey games is at the top of the list.
Hockey is supposed to give people reasons to live, not reasons to die.
Gary Bettman and the NHL: Fix this shit. NOW.