In part one yesterday, we looked at the lack of reaction to the news that Derek Boogaard had CTE, a disease of the brain caused by repeated blows to the head. Now, we take a look at the most powerful reaction we have seen to this point, and its pros and cons.
In his piece entitled "The Shame of the State of Hockey," local writer Nick Coleman (who is not a hockey writer) asks if "Minnesota, and the Wild, killed Derek Boogaard." Yesterday, I promised a look at the post and the unfair accusations along with the completely fair questions he raises. I also ask the question I think needs to be asked.
Please keep in mind that none of this is intended to belittle Mr. Coleman, or his piece in anyway. I believe his post is heartfelt, that he is writing the post from a point of view of trying his best to make sense of what he has read, and what he has had to read about for the past almost seven months. The examination of his piece is meant only to further the discussion.
Make the jump.
Looking at this piece, Mr. Coleman is clearly not happy about what happened, and believes there are people to blame in this. From the very beginning, the tone is set. Asking if Minnesota, and the Wild, killed Derek is a powerful, yet dangerous, accusation. I didn't kill Derek. Did you? Who is "Minnesota?" Everyone in the state, or just the hockey fans? Are Minnesota, and the Wild, also to blame for the injuries he sustained before he was drafted? How much culpability is on Minnesota? On the Wild? On Canada? The junior programs?
These are questions such a line of thinking brings up. I could come up with 1000 more, guaranteed. Again, I get why he uses that wording, but we have to be careful that we don't cross a line.
It's hard not to acknowledge that the Wild bear large responsibility for Boogaard's nightmarish decline into a life of painkillers, concussions, self-doubt and brain damage after reading the devastating three-part series on Boogaard that appeared in The New York Times this week.
I don't find it that difficult to say they might bear some responsibility. However, a "large responsibility?" Nah. Derek had injuries before the Wild drafted him, the article points to alcohol use as a teenager, and the self-doubt is present from the beginning. The Wild gave him a job doing what he himself said was his only plan.
Would it have been better for them not to draft him? Is it impossible to think someone else would not have signed him as a free agent? If they had not drafted him, would that possibly have spun him into the darkness without ever having played in the NHL? It was, after all, all he ever wanted. To be denied that could have been a disaster.
The Minnesota Wild did not prescribe painkillers. Doctors prescribed them. There is no proof that the Wild encouraged their use, or asked him to use them.
Derek Boogaard was badly let down by the team that drafted him in 2001, presided over his transformation into a skilled fighter, turned him into a "star" and a profitable commodity (the team is still selling No. 24 Boogaard replica jerseys), covered up for his concussions and surgeries, fed him on a heavy diet of painkillers, watched him become a stumbling, glazed-eyed, addicted shadow of his former self and - when he had become an obvious time-bomb - dumped him, letting him go to the Rangers, where Boogaard quickly unraveled after only a couple of months in the glare of Madison Garden, disappearing back into the hockey netherworld of treatment and denial, to die in Minneapolis after a night of sad boozing.
All NHL teams cover injuries. Hell, the Flyers said Chris Pronger had the flu, only to then tell us he is having knee surgery. One hell of a flu bug. The covering of injuries is frustrating, but the article explains why it is done. To ignore that fact is dangerous. Again, the team did not feed him anything. Doctors prescribed the painkillers, and he took them. He became addicted to them, and that led to a further spiraling.
To suggest they "dumped" him is where I get a little angry. They didn't dump him. They offered him a contract. The Rangers and Oilers offered him more. Chuck Fletcher did not feel the team needed a heavy-weight type enforcer for that price. It was an unpopular decision with many fans, and yet one that ultimately improved the skill level of the team. I am an unabashed Derek Booagaard fan, and even I see that he was offered a ludicrous contract. How do you turn that down? And should the Wild have matched it just because they knew he had issues? Why?
Predictably, officials of the Wild did not cooperate with The Times or respond to its reporters' questions. The Rangers also refused to comment on the series...
I didn't get that feel from what the article said. The Wild refused to make team personnel available for interview on this topic. So did the Rangers. Discussion of what doctors did or did not do is not legal without permission of the patient. Hell, in the US, even with permission, there are still legal gray areas. I'm not sure why the outrage about not wanting to talk about it.
We don't know all the facts about why they wouldn't talk to the NYT. Maybe the league told them not to. Maybe they just didn't want to relive it. I'm not making excuses, but teams have no mandate to talk to reporters. The PR folks do have a mandate to prevent PR damage, even if there is none to be had.
At the Wild's Nov. 27 Boogaard tribute, the team played a four-minute video in a hushed arena that showed Boogaard smiling and skating and throwing legal checks and playing with children but did not show him throwing a single punch - the dirty job he did for the Wild and which took him to an early grave. Something is rotten in The State of Hockey, and we all know it: We can't even watch tapes of Boogaard doing his thing.
I watched the video. I was there. I talked with his family, and his friends that night. Again, the job he did was not only for the Wild. He did it for many years before the Wild ever came into the picture. The fact that they chose to remember who he was, instead of the job he did, is not an indication that something is rotten. Do family members of WWII vets only talk about their loved one's bombing runs? We did watch tape of Derek "doing his thing." The fact that you didn't get to see him off the ice does not mean that only his on-ice persona matters.
The Wild sold Boogaard jerseys at the tribute, saying some of the money would go to charity. But the team stone-walled The Times,
In fact, the proceeds did go to charity. I work for that charity. I know they did. The team didn't stonewall anyone. They refused to discuss a matter they have zero obligation to discuss. And... what the hell do these two sentences have to do with each other exactly?
The Wild owes Minnesota and its fans better than that. And we deserve the truth.
We deserve the truth? We do? The family does. They are the only ones who deserve anything.
Among The Times' revelations: The Wild had no system for regulating medical prescriptions, and Boogaard got drugs from virtually all of the team's physicians.
No sir, the NHL, much like the rest of the world, lacks such a system. I can go to as many doctors as I want. As long as I go to different pharmacies, there is no tracking of how many painkillers I get. Are the Wild to blame for that? Or is the government? Society?
So does the downtown Minneapolis nightclub scene, with its drugs and drinking, a culture that dovetailed with the locker room pill culture.
Now... now we are starting to get somewhere.
Where Does the Rage Need to Be Focused?
The Minnesota Wild did what hockey teams do. They drafted a player they thought could help their team. They told him exactly what they wanted from him, and developed him him into that player. Someday, we might look back and think such things were brutish and wrong. Today, as when Derek was drafted, this is not only acceptable, but encouraged.
The game, according to Gary Bettman, does not allow fighting. We all know the truth. Not only is it allowed, it is part of the culture and cheered by all when it happens. The fact that the Wild drafted and developed a player into an enforcer is not something that had never been done before. It is shocking to think that they hold the blame for creating a culture that preceded their very creation by at least 100 years.
So, if not the Wild, and not the Rangers, where does the blame belong? That's an awfully philosophical questions. Joanne Boogaard places no blame. She wants to, but doesn't. I tend to fall in the same category, but I know where the blame is to fall, but they are not easy answers to accept, especially if the solutions are to be had quickly.
- Society is to blame. Plain and simple. It is the word we live in. How do you fix that? If you have that answer, you should run for office, because no one else does. What laws can you impose that aren't already there that could have stopped this?
- Hockey culture is to blame. Fighting is, like it or not, accepted and celebrated. Until that changes, and don't expect that any time soon, players like Derek will be in the game.
- Youth is to blame. How many times in your youth did you do something that, looking back, likely could have killed you? The sense of invincibility is powerful. With age comes wisdom, but first you must be young and stupid.
- The league and the union are to blame. They test for steroids, but they do not seem to care if the player is on prescription painkillers. You aren't allowed to work in most jobs while high, why are you allowed to in hockey? There is no system for tracking what doctors are doing to their players. Why not? Institute one.
- Addiction is to blame. This is the end of the discussion. Derek was addicted to painkillers. He was sent to get help, but did not accept that help. Until you deal with addiction or mental health issues, you cannot possibly understand them. A person can be sent to rehab 1000 times. Until they actually accept there is a problem and seek the help themselves, nothing can be done. Addicts will do anything to get their fix, and it ultimately kills them.
If you are hell bent on placing blame, so be it. However, unless you have a solution to all of the ills of the world, get in line for the finger pointing parade. What proposals do you have to fix the issues above? You aren't going to fix society. You can't cure youth, and until you fix society and all of the human frailties that are part of life, you aren't going to be rid of addiction.
So, we institute a policy tracking what the doctors are doing. Great plan. What stops them from buying the pills on the street? Nothing. I could get you some right now with about three phone calls is my bet, and I don't even live in the culture. It's pervasive, and it's terrifying.
Finally, we change hockey culture. We remove fighting. We get the "goons" out of the game. Maybe Derek doesn't go through what he did. Maybe instead of CTE and drug addiction, he dies in a car accident. Maybe he still becomes addicted to painkillers for a different reason, like the shoulder injury he had. Maybe, one day, sitting in his office chair at his dead end job in some corporation, he decides he can't take it anymore, and eats some pills and chases them with some Jack. His brothers find him dead and the family grieves.
Only this time... we don't have to see it. That makes it all better right?
We'll discuss out thoughts on fighting tomorrow. Trust me when I say the attitude is changing. However, taking fighting out of the game does not end the problem. It only takes it from our view. If Derek hadn't been drafted, maybe he would still be alive today. Maybe. Or maybe he would still be gone, and no one would have ever known it happened. Does that make it less our fault? I'm not convinced it does.
Where does the rage belong? You tell me. But it isn't as simple as Mr. Coleman makes it seem. At the same time, it's certainly not as simple as Mr. Bettman makes it seem either. Complex problems require complex solutions.