By Colby Cosh - Saturday, September 17, 2011 - 10 Comments
Boogaard, Rypien, and Belak, too, were each well liked and respected. They will be unfairly lumped together because of their deaths rather than their lives — they were different players in different circumstances — but the common theme after their departures was how much each of them was loved.
…There, the three lost fighters can be more truly linked. They shared the same geography. Boogaard and Belak were from Saskatoon, with its wide streets and bronze statue of Gordie Howe, his elbows up. Rypien was born and died in tiny Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. (Grimson is from British Columbia, played his junior hockey in Regina, and began his education at the University of Manitoba.) They were all Big Sky kids.
As sentimental as it might sound, Westerners really are shaped by their landscape. The expanses of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and eastern Alberta, giving way first to folds, then hills, then mountains …
“Living there makes you humble,” Grimson says. “You spend every day of your life humbled by nature.”
That’s why Western Canada is an enforcer factory, why it continues to produce these men so well versed in the lost farm-boy arts. Being a hockey fighter requires bravery and balance and fast hands and a strong chin. But perhaps more than anything else, it requires humility. It requires reconciliation, an understanding of the limits placed on every one of us.
Origins of the 38 NHL players with 10 or more fighting majors in 2010-11: Ontario 21, USA 7, Prairie Provinces 7, B.C., Newfoundland, and P.E.I. 1 apiece
Busiest fighter in the NHL in 2010-11: George Parros
Parros’s hometown: Scenery Hill, Pennsylvania
Parros’ major at Princeton University, where he played NCAA hockey for four years: farm-boy arts (just kidding: it was economics)
Of 530 total fights by NHL players with 10 or more fighting majors in 2010-11, number conducted by Ontarians: 291 (58%)
Number conducted by Americans: 115 (23%)
Number conducted by Prairie boys: 87 (17%)
Number conducted by Alberta-born players: 0 (0%)
By the editors - Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 11:05 AM - 6 Comments
Heads of state have interfered in pro sports before
It may be the most thrilling of winter sports, but summer is proving to be hockey’s toughest season.
In June, Vancouver was terrorized by a massive riot following the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals. In recent months three well-known NHL tough guys were found dead by their own hand: Rick Rypien and Wade Belak from apparent suicide, Derek Boogaard from accidental drug overdose.
And head trauma continues to cast a pall over the entire sport. While professional hockey has always involved substantial physical contact and ritualized fighting, new research suggests hockey tough guys such as Boogaard, Rypien and Belak may face a lifetime of degenerative brain disease and depression. Shots to the head are shortening the careers of many talented players as well. Gifted left winger Paul Kariya retired in June due to post-concussion syndrome. In August, the Boston Bruins’ star centre Marc Savard (who signed a $28-million, seven-year contract in 2009) announced he won’t play this coming season because of a concussion. He may never play again.
By Emma Teitel - Monday, September 12, 2011 at 10:15 AM - 6 Comments
The NHL enforcer’s career is nasty, brutish, and often short
Imagine a job has become available at the office of your dreams. The description is straightforward: all you have to do is pick a fight every day with someone you’re not angry at and you don’t necessarily dislike. You make a fraction of what your co-workers make and every fourth day or so you incur an injury that could culminate in a degenerative brain disease conducive to depression—or worse. But there’s a perk: you get to work in the office.
Meet the NHL enforcer—an unpopular position of late, and the subject of innumerable Canadian media debates following the “apparent suicides” or “accidental deaths” of hockey tough guys Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and, most recently, 35-year-old Wade Belak. New York Ranger Derek Boogaard was just shy of his 29th birthday when a lethal mix of alcohol and oxycodone took his life in May. Winnipeg Jet Rick Rypien, 27, was found dead in his Alberta home in August, after more than 10 years of battling depression. Wade Belak, retired enforcer and father of two, apparently committed suicide in a Toronto hotel/condominium on Aug. 31.
The majority of people in sports, from broadcasters to bloggers and NHL players themselves, are loath to concede a connection linking the deaths. Any three people in any profession, they argue, could have ended their lives within a few months of one another for reasons unrelated to their line of work. As usual, they contend, the media’s impulse to equate hockey violence with depression is sensational journalism at its worst.
By Charlie Gillis - Friday, September 9, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 17 Comments
The night before he was found dead of a suspected suicide, the former NHL enforcer was out on the town and in good spirits
In broadcasting, as in hockey, reliability ranks high on the list of professional virtues. Dead air or squandered studio time are radio sins on par with an empty dressing-room stall before practice. The responsible party can expect retribution and, if he keeps it up, a ticket to the bush leagues.
Some athletes-cum-commentators take a while to grasp that, so the text Wade Belak sent Jeremy Bennefield last Tuesday night came as reassurance to the Nashville radio producer, who had been tasked with grooming the former NHL tough guy to host a weekly show on an all-sports FM station. “I’ll be there on Friday night,” wrote Belak, who was in Toronto at the time. “Staying until Sunday. Any way we can tape a show in that time slot?” The time signature on the message read 11:29 p.m. ET. Bennefield didn’t pick it up until 9:15 a.m. the following day, and he made sure to fire off a quick reply: “Yes, we’ll make it work.”
Three hours later, Belak was found hanging in his hotel room in downtown Toronto, the victim of an apparent suicide (though authorities have not confirmed the cause of death). And Bennefield has been pondering that text exchange ever since.“Somebody actually asked me whether I thought this was a reach-out,” he says from Nashville. “You know: whether Wade was seeking some sort of reassurance that he had something to live for.” But that doesn’t square with the man he had seen at a taping just days earlier, ribbing staff at 102.5 The Game, cracking jokes at his own expense. While recording the inaugural episode of his weekly show and podcast “The Game Changer,” the 35-year-old had enthused about setting down roots in Nashville, where he’d just wound down his playing career. “Based on my conversations with him, based on the texts that I got hours before the fact,” he says, “my impression is this wasn’t a guy looking for a way out.”
By Julia Belluz - Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 5:26 PM - 5 Comments
The Statement: “On antidepressants but still in a funk? Try hitting the gym. [A new study] has found that exercise is just as good as a second antidepressant in conquering the blues.”—Toronto Star, 08/25/2011
Our collective bafflement at the tragic deaths of NHL players Wade Belak and Rick Rypien, whom both reportedly committed suicide recently, and Derek Boogaard, who accidentally overdosed on booze and painkillers in May, had Science-ish wondering about the link between depression and sports. As the Globe and Mail’s André Picard penned rhetorically, “Surely a trio of tough guys dying at their own hand in a short period can’t be a coincidence, right?”
Indeed, the notion that athletes in peak physical condition could succumb to what Winston Churchill used to call the black dog doesn’t square with what we thought we knew. Besides the fact that jocks (unlike artists) aren’t typically associated with depression, the well-documented health benefits of playing sports don’t seem to align with the blues. There are the mood-boosting physiological effects of working out—it raises endorphin levels and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. There are intangible benefits, too: the increased self-esteem that comes with feeling and looking fit. Being athletic in our society is virtuous, and some have even linked too little physical activity to depressive moods.
So it seems easy to believe that exercise would inhibit depression.
Those who have wrestled the black dog may have been interested in the news stories last week about a new study that supposedly found the “treadmill can act as second antidepressant,” as the Toronto Star put it. That a jog could help treat depression—with fewer side-effects and costs than blockbuster antidepressants—sounded immediately appealing, especially when considering people tend to have poor adherence to antidepressants (the dropout rate within the first weeks of treatment can run as high as 40%), and even when they stick to their treatment, they often just don’t feel better. (A 2003 Cochrane review found only marginal differences between antidepressant medications and active placebos.)
Naturally, Science-ish was inclined to look at the evidence behind physical activity as a treatment for depression. The most recent Cochrane systematic review on the subject—”Exercise for depression“—examined randomized controlled trials in which exercise was compared to standard treatment, no treatment, or a placebo in adults with depression. Exercise, the investigators concluded, seemed to improve depressive symptoms in people—but the effects were statistically insignificant when only methodologically robust trials were considered.
The lead author on the study, Dr. Gillian Mead of the University of Edinburgh, told Science-ish, “There was also uncertainty about the optimum exercise prescription, which individual patients might benefit, how best to motivate people with depression to start to exercise, and how to optimize adherence.”
Dr. James Blumenthal (PhD), a leading researcher on exercise and depression at Duke University, weighed in, too. He has found that, while promising, there is no definitive link between exercise and depression. “Data are more limited in children, and most studies of adults have focused on aerobic exercise. But there is some—albeit limited—data supporting the potential value of anaerobic strength training,” he noted. Though, again, the exact dose of exercise needed to boost low moods is not yet known. (Duke research suggests 30 minutes three times each week for 16 weeks may be adequate).
As for the recent headline-grabbing study, “Exercise as an augmentation treatment for nonremitted major depressive disorder,” the researchers looked at people who had not responded to antidepressants, and split them into two groups: one went on a gentle exercise regime (walking ten minutes per day, for example) and the other took more vigorous aerobic exercise (a jog on the treadmill). All participants remained on antidepressants; but exercise—not another drug—was their co-treatment.
After the four-month trial, more people on the higher ‘dose’ of exercise experienced remission of symptoms than the gentle exercisers, but more of those on the brisk routine dropped out of the trial. Dr. Mead observed, “The difference between the two doses of exercise was not statistically significant. So while these data are not inconsistent with the literature that suggests that exercise is of benefit for depression, further research is still needed to answer important questions about how effective exercise might be.”
Still, in her systematic review, Dr. Mead and her co-authors did suggest physicians consider prescribing exercise for depressed patients. “It would be reasonable for doctors to give them the same advice that they would give healthy people about the long-term benefits of exercise. And also say that exercise may have short-term beneficial effects on mood,” she said. “As you know, there is a vast, robust literature on the benefits of exercise in the general population.”
So will we see doctors prescribe exercise for depression anytime soon? “Possibly,” said Dr. Blumenthal, “especially physicians who feel comfortable recommending exercise for their patients. However, if physicians don’t normally prescribe exercise—and many don’t—they will likely continue to prescribe what they usually do: antidepressants.”
Science-ish is a joint project of Maclean’s, The Medical Post, and the McMaster Health Forum. Julia Belluz is the associate editor at The Medical Post. Got a tip? Seen something that’s Science-ish? Message her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @juliaoftoronto
By macleans.ca - Friday, September 2, 2011 at 11:43 AM - 1 Comment
NHL enforcer was on meds to curb mental illness
Two anonymous sources who knew former NHL enforcer Wade Belak say the 35-year-old hockey retiree had suffered from depression. They also say that though he was on medication to curb his mental illness, the hockey star was “loath to speak about it.” Belak committed suicide in a Toronto condominium on August 31. He was the third NHL enforcer to die this season. Derek Boogaard overdosed on drugs on May 13, and former Canucks’ enforcer Rick Rypien also committed suicide on August 15.