Like many of us, Dave Bidini is disturbed by the Rick Rypien tragedy and he wonders whether the hockey culture is at least partly to blame.
How many songs, poems, open-line laments, sports-talk post-mortems or morning columns must we voice before we study that culture for what it really is? …This summer, two hockey players have died. How many stories about dead hockey players do we have to tell before they stop dying?
It has been a sad summer. And the sad summer followed the untimely death of Bob Probert this spring and Tom Cavanagh’s suicide in January. Dave is certainly right in the sense that it is time to actually study the matter. What kind of price are we asking players to pay to entertain us?
(I appreciate that the Canucks were very supportive, and dealt well with a difficult situation. Still, I wonder why Rypien was playing at all given the documented connection between concussions, depression and suicide. My common sense agrees – brain injuries can’t be a good thing for a person battling a brain disease. Hockey – particularly Rypien hockey – is too risky. How was he cleared to play?)
Ian Brown, on the other hand, doesn’t think that question is relevant. Even though his article acknowledges the physical and emotional toll the game takes on players like Rypien, he doesn’t think it matters whether hockey contributed to Rypien’s illness or not.
First, Brown seems to think fighting plays an important role in the game although he doesn’t quite come out and say it. He describes Rypien’s role: He played a handful of minutes a game, and performed the same tasks each shift: subdued opponents who threatened his stars, administered payback and roused the flagging spirits of his team. The job almost always involved violence.
The jobs almost always involved gratuitous violence. None of it is critical to the game of hockey. The league and the officials are supposed to subdue opponents who threaten stars and only a sports league should administer payback. No one can seriously suggest otherwise.
(If enforcers are really supposed to police the game, to make it safer, they are doing a pisspoor job of it. And please, don’t try to tell me that they would do a better job if we did away with the instigator rule. We don’t need more fighting to solve a problem of gratuitous violence.)
Brown acknowledges the more obvious reason we have fighting in the NHL:
We do enjoy watching them fight. We come from that place, deep down, when civilization was not so complex and full of euphemism, back when we beat the shit out of people. In some fundamental way, we admire it when everything else is stripped away…
[E]ven if fighting is discovered to be a cause of depression, no enforcer I’ve met thinks that NHL hockey can give it up. It runs too deep and profitably in the game…
NHL hockey may not be willing to give it up, but at the very least, they should be willing to find out the extent of the problem. What does happen to hockey players when they retire? Is Dave Scatchard an exception or is his experience common enough to be part of a rule? If not the league, the NHLPA should be taking action. We are balancing entertainment and owner’s profits against player safety. The first thing to be learned is “How safe is hockey?”
Right now, we don’t know.