This is the story of how a brutal, nonsensical and dangerous NHL position caused the downward spiral of a man who was both tall in stature and in dignity – turning him into an empty shell in the arms of his father and eventually death from prescription drugs and alcohol.
The story called into question what exactly was gained from this type of position in the foremost Ice Hockey league in the world. The high level and frequency of concussions was scary to the point of unbelievable.
That a league, a team and an individual would believe that this is the only way to play hockey, for certain people, is utterly baffling. Even more so when you realise that this would happen for 80 or so games a season, season after season. If Derek had lived past his 29th birthday and into middle age he would have effectively suffered from dementia and other mental illnesses before he even reached 50 years of age. Derek Boogaard died when he was 28.
The role of an Ice Hockey ‘Enforcer’ is pointless. A macho display of fighting in order to ‘protect’ the rest of your team mates. That word protect is both laughable and ironic. That a team would endorse that fact that their team mate get concussed, break his nose, lose teeth or even lose consciousness in order to stop those ‘team-mates’ looking bad is disgraceful.
Saving face for them is costing lives for others…that is not an exaggeration. Around the same time as Derek Boogaard was being buried by his family, two other ‘enforcers’ took their own lives. It was not a coincidence.
The NHL has rolled out rules for decreased fighting and harsher penalties for those who continually drop their gloves on the ice. But it’s decades after its time. The traditional role of the ‘Enforcer’ should have been dealt with long before now. The excuse from the NHL has always been that neither fans nor players want to rule out the role of the ‘Enforcer’. And that there is no real scientific connection between the role and degenerative mental mobility in later life. It’s a farce. The damage done is there for all to see and it serves no purpose.
NHL teams are also to blame. When the Minnesota Wild played a video tribute to Boogaard after his death they didn’t show any fights he was in. They showed his three goals and his work with kids, but never the fights. They knew they had played their part in his downfall, it was public guilt without the admission.
Teams know the problems and try their hardest to avoid the obvious – Why are you supporting this behaviour and why are you paying a guy to sit in the penalty box time after time? Most ‘Enforcers’ would admit that they wouldn’t get in the team otherwise, they don’t have enough skills or they are not quick enough etc. Well to use the phrase of our time – Tough Sh*t.
Sure you’ll fulfil a dream of playing in the NHL, but when the crowd is gone and you’re all alone the reality is – you’re being paid to fight, not to play hockey. You’re a hired gun destined to always be ‘The Tough Guy’, ‘The Blood Maker’ or ‘The Face Breaker’ but never ‘The Goal Scorer’ or the ‘The Playmaker’. You are limited by your skills and exaggerated by your fists. Your dream is a nightmare is disguise.
The ‘Enforcer’ role is an illusion. An illusion of the players’ making. An illusion of the teams’ making. An illusion of the leagues’ making. It serves no purpose but to add grease to the penalty box door. You’re killing yourself with a dreamworld. A dream is something to live for…not to die for.
Kehlan Kirwan, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By NVJ (Flickr: Boogaard in conversation) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.