Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stop the madness

Time for NHL to remove enforcers from game

  • Print

Rick Rypien fought for a living and so did Derek Boogaard and today they're both dead.

Boogaard died following an accidental overdose earlier this summer and Rypien was found dead in his home on Monday.

To suggest fighting in hockey killed these men would be a ridiculous oversimplification. But to say it had no part in the issues that besieged both NHL tough guys would be just as off base.

 

Bare-knuckle fighting on command in the course of a hockey game is not only barbaric and physically destructive, but can also be tragically damaging to the minds of the men who choose to engage in it.

The evidence of lives ravaged by the role of enforcer in the NHL is long: Dave Semenko, Louie DeBrusk, John Kordic, Bob Probert. Now Boogaard and Rypien.

All dealt with emotional troubles off the ice and all had tough guy roles on it. There's a connection. It's undeniable.

The physical damage, in particular post-concussion syndrome, is more than enough reason to remove fighting from hockey. The continuing evidence of what the job psychologically does to human beings is beyond damning.

Any argument for keeping fighting in the game is now without merit. The ride of demeaning, base violence is over. The NHL must act and it must do so swiftly. Newly anointed player safety czar Brendan Shanahan needs to make this his top priority.

Fans who say they love hockey and its players must demand it. Fighting must go. Don Cherry's pleas to keep it in the game must be disregarded as misinformed rubbish.

"It's their job and no once forced them to take the job," a reporter who covers the NHL told me on Monday night when I suggested fighting plays a role in the destruction of too many players' lives.

Fine. If they can't help themselves, let's help do it for them. The detrimental effects far outweigh any anecdotal theories about keeping the game honest.

Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber looked at the lot in life of a hockey fighter back in 1997.

"I can look back and say fighting's pretty much given me a life, but it's also kind of destroyed my life," DeBrusk told Farber. "The fact that I am a fighter on the ice and the difficulties I've had with that job definitely brought me to drink a few times. I'd go out after a game and all I could think of was the pressure I had on me during the game. Maybe I didn't fight. There'd be the guilt that I didn't fight, the feeling of worthlessness, I guess. Then I'd go out and drink myself into oblivion and maybe I'd get into a fight later. I've been advised by people who have helped me in rehab not to go back to my job."

Farber spoke to players on a number of teams and while there were some, Tie Domi among them, that enjoyed the work of punching another person in the face, overall the job provided little personal fulfilment.

"We've all had that oh-I-think-my-girlfriend's-pregnant feeling, that sick-to-your-stomach feeling when you have to do something you don't want to do," said Kelly Chase. "It's like when you've had somebody in school organize a fight for you. You know that at 3:30 you've got to go out and have that fight. That's how I feel every game and probably how I've felt since junior hockey. Eventually that's what chases a lot of guys away from the game."

Winnipeg Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger was unwilling to link the deaths of Boogaard and Rypien to fighting on Tuesday.

"I can't answer that question because I can't speak for him. But there seems to be a developing trend there," said Heisinger.

One former NHLer told me on Monday that fighting needed to be looked at, but there was evidence of lots of players who walked away from the role emotionally intact.

"Look at Kris King, he's a vice-president with the NHL. What about Ken Baumgartner? He's an investment banker and Stu Grimson is a lawyer," said the former player.

All true, but not reason enough to look past the burned out human shells so many fighters become. Some are strong enough to survive this torturous existence, but that's no reason to let it continue.

End it. End it now, NHL.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2011 C3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Doug Speirs trains for role in Nutcracker

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Water lilys are reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)
  • A monarch butterfly looks for nectar in Mexican sunflowers at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Monday afternoon-Monarch butterflys start their annual migration usually in late August with the first sign of frost- Standup photo– August 22, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

Poll

Will you watch The Interview?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google