Derek Boogaard: NHL Enforcers Defend Hockey Fights After Player's Sudden Death

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Derek Boogaard: NHL Enforcers Defend Hockey Fights After Player's Sudden Death
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Derek Boogaard did not make a career out of fighting so people could use his death as a means to stop hockey players from doing it.

The New York Times' recent publication of "Punched Out" (a lengthy account of the life, career and death of the former hockey enforcer) caused a renaissance of the discussion on fighting's place in the NHL.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post published an article calling for a ban, while anti-fighting activist Damien Cox of The Star is still attempting to use the death as a means to further his cause.

Neither Brooks or Cox played in the NHL at any point in their lives and, coincidentally, never fought in the NHL either.

Still, they claim fighting is too harmful. They say it's too dangerous, that it could cause brain damage, drug addiction and depression. These columnists write as if every hockey player to ever drop his gloves and threw a punch is going to have serious problems later in life.

If anyone in NHL history should be a poster-boy for the dangers of hockey fights, it would be the league's all-time leader in fighting majors.

Tie Domi, who retired five years ago, fought more than anyone. At the age of 42, he does not show any form of brain damage, drug addiction or depression—all the reasons for which anti-fight activists claim the activity should be outlawed.

How can anyone justify a ban on fighting in the NHL for the sake of safety if the person who did it the most has not shown any of these effects?

Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
Tie Domi has more experience with fighting in the NHL than anyone.

If the issues are so incredibly intertwined with hockey fighting, how has the most experienced hockey fighter not shown any of them?

Speaking after the death of Wade Belak (a former enforcer who suffered from depression), Domi said, "It’s got nothing to do with the role. That’s [crap]."

Domi's opinion on Belak is likely shared for that of Rick Rypien, who died from similar causes. Rypien was an active fighter, fighting once every 5.4 games over his career, according to DropYourGloves.com.

Other NHL enforcers are also voicing their opinions on the discovery that Boogaard had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease associated with repetitive blows to the head.

Boogaard's CTE was undoubtedly worsened by the details of his job, which included being punched in the head by the NHL's biggest, toughest men for several years.

However, Boogaard is just one out of thousands of hockey players who have fought in the NHL over the past several decades. If fighting was so drastically detrimental, CTE would be found in anyone to spend five minutes in the penalty box for fighting.

In response to Larry Brooks' suggestion that Boogaard's death should result in a ban on fighting in the NHL, Ian Laperriere used his Twitter account to say, "Hitting would be next then, I've seen a lot more concussions from hits than from fighting."

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Ian Laperriere did not hesitate to share his opinion on the matter.

Laperriere fought more than 200 times in his NHL career.

Todd Fedoruk, another former NHL enforcer, joined the conversation by saying, "I always thought it was a skill to be able to protect yourself on the ice."

Laperriere responded with, "Yep, but I guess it's not a skill to experts that never played the game."

Laperriere was noting that Brooks' suggestion to ban fighting came from a person who never felt the intensity of an NHL season. Therefore, Brooks is unable to compare the physical drain of those hits to the physicality of a hockey fight.

Laperriere last played in the 2009-10 season after being hit in the face with a slap shot. Symptoms from that injury prevented him from getting back in the Philadelphia Flyers' lineup.

After all that fighting, the most damaging injury of his career came from playing defense. He said about the incident, "We probably hurt our brain by hitting and getting hit (body check) more than fighting."

Just as boxers and mixed martial arts fighters know the risks their careers present in the ring, hockey players know the risks of their sport, whether it be from getting hit in the face with a puck, being checked hard, or punched in the head during a bout on the ice.

Fighting is part of hockey. Being punched in the face is part of fighting. Hockey fighters choose to do it.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Eric Lindros' career was derailed by head injuries; none of which were caused by a fight.

It is their choice to do so, not a New York Post columnist who never has to put himself at risk in an NHL game.

Still, not everyone who drops the gloves suffers life-altering injuries or diseases.

Far more careers are ruined by the physical toll of the game than the act of fighting. (See: Pat Lafontaine, Geoff Courtnall, Eric Lindros, Mike Richter, Steve Moore, Adam Deadmarsh, Keith Primeau, Scott Stevens, Marc Savard...)

All these players suffered career-altering head injuries that had nothing to do with fighting.

Brooks said of Boogaard's death, "We cannot know precisely the direct cause or effect between the punches Boogaard took to the head and his death at the age of 28 because of mitigating factors, including genealogy and this gentle soul of a man’s addictions."

In reality, the cause of Boogaard's death is quite clear on his death certificate: "Mixed alcohol and oxycodone toxicity."

An overdose.

Passive hockey fans and followers may dislike the notion of fighting during a game. They may not like dealing with the fact that an enforcer is susceptible to CTE. They may not like seeing grown men put themselves in danger for an act some would find frivolous.

Still, the men doing that job have spoken.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
The Minnesota Wild showed respect for Boogaard after his death.

"Tired of hearing that fighting in hockey leads to drug addiction. Drug addiction affects all types of people all over the map," said Riley Cote.

Boogaard, Rypien and Belak did not die from hockey fights. Their deaths were the result of events caused by depression and drugs.

Those are the real problems. Those are what Brooks and Cox should be worrying about instead of trying to pretend banning fights would somehow fix both issues.

Brooks wrote about Boogaard's issues in his article, "There is a difference between not knowing and not wanting to know."

There is also a difference between respecting the truth and ignoring it in order to make a problem seem simpler than it really is.

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