NHL deaths attract the wrong attention

It’s been a summer many won’t choose to remember.

After three untimely deaths involving players from the National Hockey League separated by mere months, the hockey-crazed media have surely not experienced a typical summer off-season.

Starting with the death of New York Rangers’ enforcer Derek Boogaard in May, resulting from an accidental but lethal mixture of oxycodone and alcohol, to Winnipeg Jets’ forward Rick Rypien, who suffered from depression and died in August, to finally Wade Belak, ex-Toronto Maple Leafs’ bad boy and fan favourite, media pundits have had no shortage of things to talk about. And they shouldn’t.

But the topic of discussion has strayed from the overwhelming sense of loss and mourning that these players’ families encounter and the spiriting and uplifting words that former teammates and coaches have to say about these young men’s lives. They have now drifted towards the calling of officials’ jobs over player safety and lack of preventative measures instilled in the fastest sport played on the planet, perfectly productive discussions turn ugly.

At the time of publication, numerous sources have confirmed that Belak’s death was a suicide by hanging. He leaves behind his wife Jennifer and his two young children in his passing. He was 35. Boogaard was 28 at the time of his death while Rypien was 27.

While depression is a demon most everyone battles at some point, it is utterly ridiculous for several media outlets to group each player’s (all thought to be enforcers) situation in the same boat.

Many NHL’ers have commented on the toll the arduous and demanding yearly hockey schedule takes on the body and mind, but absolutely none of them have experienced or can know for certain what each young man dealt with in their road to stardom.

Almost parallel to the circumstances surrounding Amy Winehouse’s death earlier in the year, many pundits will try to analyze, diagnose and almost perform their own autopsy in an attempt to answer any lingering questions they may have as to why these human beings make the choices they do.

But sometimes, these issues have no clear response, no one magical truth that can be learned, to be tucked into purse and pocket to be brought out next time the situation calls for it.

Sometimes, the best thing the ailing public and inquisitive band of journalists can do is to stand aside and grieve.

No doubt, there are questions that must be asked concerning the state of mental illness in hockey, and there is an appropriate time and place to probe and pry into the NHL’s various methodologies. But they surely aren’t the second the first tweet is released into the digital ether.

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