After Wade Belak’s shocking death in a Toronto condominium, the focus on what’s ailing NHL players has taken over the discussion this offseason. With four player deaths this year alone with Belak joining Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Tom Cavanagh as players who dealt with problems off the ice and sought other means to ail themselves and their worried minds, the NHL and NHLPA have some startling realities to face up to.
We said this morning that now as the time for both the league and the player’s union to work together to try and help their players out and this call was one shared by a handful of former players as well. Today, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr issued a joint statement saying that they realize things have gotten to a point where they need to do something.
The statement cuts right to the heart of the matter.
“Everyone at the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association is profoundly saddened by the loss, within a matter of a few weeks, of three young men, each of whom was in the prime of his life.
“While the circumstances of each case are unique, these tragic events cannot be ignored. We are committed to examining, in detail, the factors that may have contributed to these events, and to determining whether concrete steps can be taken to enhance player welfare and minimize the likelihood of such events taking place. Our organizations are committed to a thorough evaluation of our existing assistance programs and practices and will make immediate modifications and improvements to the extent they are deemed warranted.
“It is important to ensure that every reasonable step and precaution is taken to make NHL players, and all members of the NHL family, aware of the vast resources available to them when they are in need of assistance. We want individuals to feel comfortable seeking help when they need help.
“NHL Clubs and our fans should know that every avenue will be explored and every option pursued in the furtherance of this objective.”
It’s heartbreaking to see these situations arise with players and to not know there’s a problem, in some cases, until it’s far too late makes it all the more difficult. For the league and the union to recognize there’s something bigger at hand here and being proactive in trying to do something, anything, about it is a great start.
While we’re often critical of the league or the union for being slow to react when it comes to matters involving the game on the ice, being active in the process to get things figured out for this and reacting quickly is a move that had to be made. After all, you often don’t know if there’s a guy dealing with personal issues because matters like that are kept extremely private, often hidden from their family and friends.
We hope that this is the first of many improvements for the league and their players when it comes to taking matters of substance abuse, behavioral issues, and depression very seriously. It’s just a start for now, but one everyone had to make. Let’s just hope that stories like we’ve had this year can be further avoided.