Wade Belak's Death Is No Reason to Remove Fighting from NHL

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Wade Belak's Death Is No Reason to Remove Fighting from NHL
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Wednesday's news of Wade Belak's passing marked this summer's third death of a player who had fought in the NHL this past season.

Earlier in the summer, the world lost Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien.

These three players combined for more than 550 total hockey fights in their careers. With the coincidence of their deaths at young ages due to unnatural causes, inquiries about the possible effect of fighting on their lives remains unavoidable.

Did the toll of beating people up for a living create a mental anxiety that was simply too much to live with for these three players?

No.

That is an absolutely ridiculous claim.

Every season in the NHL, roughly 20 or more players fight more than 10 times but fail to contribute 10 points on offense. Essentially, these players are there to fight, and they take part in all the activities paired with that role.

If fighting caused drug dependency or depression, not only would all of these hockey players suffer from those issues, but all athletes in boxing and MMA would, too.

Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
If fighting is too dangerous of an activity to have in hockey, the UFC should be shut down as well.

These conditions affect thousands of people across the world, most of whom have never played hockey let alone fought in the NHL.

What caused these three deaths was some feigned secret hatred of fighting, but unrelated off-ice issues.

Players do not make it to the NHL as enforcers by a force beyond themselves. Boogaard, Rypien and Belak did not have to fight.

Nobody does.

All of these players chose that career, having the option to leave at any time.

That's exactly what Riley Cote did last summer at the young age of 27. He said of his early retirement:

"For me, I kept asking myself: Do I want to do this for the next 10 years? Will I hold up that long? You really begin to question if it’s for you. I don’t regret my decision ever, though. I’m at peace with myself."

Cote also spoke against taking fighting out of the game. He noted most NHL tough guys are still alive, and regarding misplacing the cause of death on fighting, "That's complete bull."

Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
Tie Domi, the all-time NHL fights leader and good friend of Wade Belak, said the idea of blaming these deaths on fighting is wrong.

Other reactions from hockey enforcers match Cote's.

Dennis Bonvie fought over 400 times in his career, mostly in the AHL.He told The Times Leader, "I did it (fighting) as much or more than anybody. In my opinion it’s more a coincidence. The same thing could’ve happened to goal scorers or defensemen."

Bonvie continued, "I did it (fighting) my entire career and I’m fine."

Matt Kassian of the Minnesota Wild told the Vancouver Sun:

"Their problems weren’t necessarily brought on by fighting... Maybe (fighting) might expedite things because of the added pressure. But it’s no different if your regular job was in trouble and you were afraid of being laid off and you had some depression."

While Kassian is a young enforcer attempting to find a steady NHL job, Georges Laraque is a recently retired veteran who enjoyed many years of notoriety as one of the league's top fighters. 

He told the Toronto Sun "All the former guys I used to fight, and who think they (NHL) should phase that out, they make me want to puke."

If one player knows more about the effect fighting can have on a player, it's Tie Domi.

What action (if any) should the NHL take in response to these deaths?

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The NHL's all-time leader in fighting majors said, “It’s got nothing to do with the role. That’s [crap]."

These testimonials from knowledgeable enforcers should help create an understanding that hockey fighting is not what took the lives of three young men this summer.

What caused the deaths of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak can be attributed to a much greater issue that is not selective to the NHL's tough guys.

Rather than attempt to simplify the issues of drug dependency and depression by blaming fights, the focus should be on what would actually help.

Domi made this message clear in his previously mentioned interview, saying about the depression that overwhelmed Belak,

"It’s a negative state of mind that produces chemical changes in the brain. That’s the message that needs to be stressed. It’s my role to spread that message and that it can be beaten. I owe it to my friend Wade to spread that message."

The NHL does not need to ban fights; off-ice battles are clearly a more significant issue.

Keep your chin up, folks. Don't ever stop fighting.

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