For one hundred years, sports have played a major role in the daily lives of the people that consume this planet. Some as a past time, and others as a job, and some play for a little bit of both.
The choice to play can create the challenge of climbing a mountain of pressure inflicted by coaches, other players, and even the athlete himself. There are psychological obstacles on every path, and anxiety at every turn. And for the professionals, the heightened visibility creates scenarios of the public expecting Superman with skates and a stick, because no one wants to cheer for someone who might be weak.
“It’s not only about the deaths, it’s the deaths that surround similar type players,” said Craig Button, former general manager of the Calgary Flames.
The deaths of the three players on the mainland set off bells & whistles, and raised many flags all across the league, including the NHLPA. Lost were Wade Belak, Rick Rypien, and Derek Boogaard. On the surface, the deaths all ring the same post. All three players made a living with dropped gloves and enforcing the unwritten rules of the league.
Wade Belak | Age:35 | Ht:6-5 | Wt:222 | Shoots:R | Seasons:14
At approximately 1:33pm on August 31, 2011, Belak was found dead in a condo at the One King Street West Hotel in Toronto. Unconfirmed reports say Belak died as a result of hanging.
Derek Boogaard | Age:29 | Ht:6-7 | Wt:260 | Shoots:L | Seasons:6
On May 13, 2011, Boogaard was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment by family members. Reports indicate Boogaard died from an accidental mix of alcohol and prescription medication.
Rick Rypien | Age:27 | Ht:5-11 | Wt:190 | Shoots:R | Seasons:6
A family member found Rypien dead in his Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, home on August 15, 2011. The cause of death was later confirmed as a suicide. He battled depression for 10 years.
“This is the darkest day in the history of our sport. This is not only a Russian tragedy, the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from 10 nations,” said Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation. “This is a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community.”
As if it wasn’t enough for the hockey world still trying to come to terms with the death of three players this summer, the news broke on Wednesday that a plane went down in Russia, taking with it the lives of over 40 NHL brothers. The outpouring of fans on all the common mediums was endearing, and the NHL players that spoke did so from the heart.
A Lokomotiv official reportedly announced that all players from the team’s main roster were aboard the plane. The roster includes former NHL stars Pavol Demitra, Josef Vasicek, and Ruslan Salei. Alexander Vasyunov, who played 18 games last season with the New Jersey Devils, was also on the team according to Newscore.
Officials said player Alexander Galimov survived the crash along with an unnamed crew member.
With as many sports specific factors that contribute to depression like injury, burnout, and overtraining – the NHL and its players must now deal with a 4th major tragedy.
Although there are a number of external events which can cause an athlete to experience depression, it is ultimately up to oneself to face his demons and ask for help. The good news is that depression is very treatable, but unfortunately there are many challenges when admitting you need help.
As the hockey world recovers from a tragic summer, the NHL and NHLPA will have eyes fixed upon them for how they are going to extend hands and help those who need it. The eyes of the fans, the media, but most important, the eyes of the players.
Please don’t drop the ball on this one.
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