The hardworking staff just finished the New York Times’ three-part series, PUNCHED OUT: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer and, man, was it jaw-dropping.
The series – which occupied a full dozen pages of the Times over the past three days – chronicles the nasty, brutish, and short professional hockey career of Derek Boogaard, who “rose to fame as one of the sport’s most feared fighters before dying at age 28.”
Staggering in its detail and tragic in its implications, the Times report culminates in a neuropathologist’s examination of Boogaard’s brain, which showed “a surprisingly advanced degree of brain damage” (specifically, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) for someone so young.
The degenerative disease was more advanced in Boogaard than it was in Bob Probert, a dominant enforcer of his generation, who played 16 N.H.L. seasons, struggled with alcohol and drug addictions and died of heart failure at age 45 in 2010.
In the past two years, C.T.E. was also diagnosed in the brains of two other former N.H.L. players: Reggie Fleming, 73, and Rick Martin, 59.
The condition of Boogaard’s brain, however, suggests the possibility that other current N.H.L. players have the disease, even if the symptoms have not surfaced.
The N.H.L. is not convinced that there is a link between hockey and C.T.E.
Then again, maybe this will convince the NHL:
Boogaard’s death took on added weight when, in August, two other N.H.L. enforcers were found dead. Rick Rypien, 27, reportedly committed suicide after years of depression. Wade Belak, 35 and recently retired, reportedly hanged himself 16 days later. (The family has said it was an accident.)
It’s all led, the Times says, to a “debate about the role of fighting and the toll on enforcers” in the NHL.
Still, there’s that old Rodney Dangerfield joke: “I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out.”
It’ll be hard to break out of that mentality.