SBD/September 2, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL, NHLPA Vow To Study Role Of On-Ice Violence In Player Deaths

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Wade Belak's death is third this summer for current or former NHLers
The NHL and NHLPA "are promising to investigate off-ice deaths and examine ways to support players during and after their careers, as the hockey world reels from the second suicide of a tough guy in less than three weeks," according to Morrow, Mirtle & Mills of the GLOBE & MAIL. The death of Predators D Wade Belak, "found hanging in a Toronto hotel room Wednesday, preceded by the suicide of Rick Rypien and a drug overdose that killed Derek Boogaard earlier this summer, has heightened scrutiny on the level of violence tolerated in the NHL." It comes as hockey is "already grappling with the troubling issue of head injuries, as personified by one of its brightest and most marketable stars, Sidney Crosby, who remains sidelined by a concussion." Now, the focus is shifting to the "enforcers who grind out a living with their fists, and raising new questions about whether hockey fights are breeding mental illness" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/2). NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr in a joint statement Thursday said, "While the circumstances of each case are unique, these tragic events cannot be ignored. 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." In N.Y., John Branch notes the "question emerging in hockey circles is not only whether something could have been done to save the lives of each man, but whether their deaths were related to their jobs as enforcers." Player agent Scott Norton: "It's hard to say the deaths are completely not connected" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/2).

TIME TO TAKE ACTION: Jets G Chris Mason said Thursday that the NHL and NHLPA "need to take action after three players died within a few months." Mason: "This may just be a terrible coincidence but if it's not, you have to find out warning signs for these things and take the proper precautions and treatments. It's definitely something that everybody is going to be taking a look at now and they are going to be doing everything they can to prevent this from happening" (WINNIPEG SUN, 9/2). Former Maple Leafs Assistant GM Bill Watters said, "They have to do something. There needs to be an investigation into the (possible) connect of these deaths" (TORONTO SUN, 9/2). Michigan NeuroSport Dir Jeffrey Kutcher, a consultant for the NHLPA, said league and union officials have "got to deal" with depression. Kutcher: "We’ve got to be better at monitoring for it, diagnosing it, treating it. … It’s psychological counseling on a routine basis in certain cases, and I think that’s kind of the message that I want to get out, is that it has to be more involved -- far more involved -- than what we’ve made it so far" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/1). The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor writes under the header, "Wade Belak's Death Another Warning Sign For NHL" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/2). But in Toronto, Steve Buffery writes, "To reach the conclusion that suicide is an NHL problem or, more specifically, a problem with being an NHL enforcer, is premature" (TORONTO SUN, 9/2).
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