When athletes die too young

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Re: Death of NHL’s gentle giant a mystery, Sports May 15
The Toronto Star

Will this very premature death prove yet another victim of the growing concussion spectre? Derek Boogaard was “an anomaly among NHL policeman in that he actually enjoyed fighting,” and he’d “run a controversial summer camp with his brother focusing on teaching young players to fight.” Hockey has indeed morphed into a gladiatorial spectacle when youth attend a camp to learn the art of fisticuffs while wearing skates.

Players, like Boogaard, who enjoy fighting, are “dangerous because they want to hurt you.” Sadly, he joins the dubious ranking of deceased bench goons, those sacrificial bulls like Bob Probert and Reg Fleming, two who at least lived long enough to stumble through late-middle age with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Ex-NHLer Keith Primeau, still plagued with post concussion symptoms, says that professional hockey, and society in general, are somewhat “naive and ignorant” regarding the bigger issue. That “issue” is head trauma, and its long-term effects.

For hockey purists, and for impressionable youth, the Boogaard tragedy may prove to have a rather large silver lining. The sport, as international competition has proven, can be a contest of speed and finesse, not brutality. Let those who like to pound people pursue those testosterone-fuelled mixed-martial arts slugfests, and train accordingly.

Garry Burke, Coldwater

I felt sad after reading articles about Derek Boogaard — sad because he passed away at such a young age and about the public perception of these young hockey players. I don’t know if we can truly get our heads around the fact that he’s a son, grandson, brother, friend when we see the talented athlete. He was seen as an aggressive hockey player. He suffered more than one concussion.

As hockey fans, we really don’t want the hitting and fighting to stop. I understand that the people who knew him described him as a nice guy. But he was still an enforcer on the ice. We should definitely put Boogaard on a pedestal for his contribution and hard work.

However, if we glorify the fighting after this wonderful young man has passed away then our perception of fighting will never change.

Andrea Berardi, Peterborough

The NHL is home to the greatest hockey players around the world, but with the number of concussions this season people are really beginning to worry about the well-being of these athletes.

According to data by the NHL’s Hockey Operations department, only 17 per cent of the concussions this season were caused by illegal hits to the head or illegal body checks. Another 44 per cent have come from legal hits to the head or body.

If Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL, wants to prevent concussions he should ban hits to the head.

During this season’s playoffs, Vancouver Canucks’ Raffi Torres purposely shouldered Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook in the head. Fortunately for Seabrook and the Blackhawks, he was only shaken up. Torres only received a two-minute minor penalty and no suspension, because NHL senior vice-president, Colin Campbell, claims the hit was legal.

As friends of mine are growing older, they continue to become closer to their dream of making it into the NHL. I worry that one day they could be severely injured by one of these plays if things do not change.

Bettman has started to increase the suspensions ever since the Zdeno Chara hit on Montreal forward Max Pacioretty. The next illegal hit was by Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke, a notorious offender. Cooke was suspended for 10 games and the first round of the 2011 playoffs, as well as a fine of $219,512.20.

However, I wonder, will Bettman continue to enforce the rule of hits to the head, or will things just return to normal once all the commotion dies down?

Hockey is a rough sport and is meant to be played physically, but only to a certain point. Suspensions must continue to be given, before more careers are completely ruined.

Read More: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters/article/994226–when-athletes-die-too-young