Wade Belak’s suicide won’t be the last – time to outlaw fighting in the NHL

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Sun reporting that enforcer Belak’s death was a suicide – *CBC confirms suicide at Midnight


Reprinted with permission of The Hockey Writers.com

Wade Belak died today. And it’s a sad, sad day for hockey.

I arrived home from work. Took the dog out for a walk and saw the banner on TSN when I returned. How to deal with that? And how to ignore the trend?

Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak.

Three tough guys. Enforcers who made a living in the National Hockey League trading punches and throwin’ down. Modern day gladiators. The victims, this off season, of the “thumbs down.” Nero’s not overseeing such swift justice. Who’s wearing the Emperor’s Robes here anyway. In this arena farce? Gary Bettman? The Owners? Or collective apathy?

The NHL is the only professional sports league in the world that allows fighting.

No wait.

It’s the only organization in the world that supports man to man combat as an intrinsic part of its paradigm.

Bare knuckled fighting was banned from the sweet science – boxing knuckleheads, but I love the alliterative nuance – in 1889. (John L. Sullivan fought and won the <strong>last sanctioned bare-knuckle fight</strong> in 1889 against Jake Kilrain)

Know why? They outlawed such foolishness? Way back before John Ferguson or Eddie Shack’s grandaddies were born?

Because bare-knuckled fighting is considered dangerous and probably deadly. Now, I’m pretty sure that this is fairly obvious to most upright walkers with an indentured IQ that exceeds oh, say 41.5.

I once watched two bare-chested drunks at the Toronto Zoo popping haymakers over an ice cream cone.

They were in front of the baboon cage. While everyone was watching the fisticuffs I turned to the baboons. Two adult males ran to the back of the enclosure, sat down, and covered their eyes. You draw your own conclusions.

Me? I took away a notion that even baboons are smart enough to regard bare-knuckled interaction as intrinsically base. And stupid.

So me and baboons and a majority of small children – really – do not find punch-ups aesthetically pleasing. I happen to teach kids on a ski hill. I know for a fact that kids think fighting is dumb. I’m thinking then that maybe, just maybe, adding the Marquis of Queensbury to a professional sporting event may not be a good idea. You know. In the long run.

That kind of logic has never impressed the suits, general managers, macho rug beaters and the lumpen proletariat in the National Hockey League Players Association. Aha. I would name Gary Bettman in this screed but what can I say? He’s just an inheritor of the long tradition who’s still drinking the Kool-Aid baby.

They likes them their fights up top in the rarefied air of the upper echelon board rooms at NHL HQ! Yes they do.

“Puts butts in the seats!” Ever heard that one? Of course you have. Ever hear this one? “Hey, Billy Bob. I went to the fights last night and a hockey game broke out! Harrrrrrrr… dee-har-har. Ain’t that a knee-slapper?”

I’m sorry. Have I offended anyone yet? Well, feel free to take a swing. You know. Because that’s how we settle things in the hockey universe. I have been arguing for the eradication of fighting from all levels of hockey for – hmmm – most of my career as a sportswriter and editor.

I bet you already know some of the names I’ve been called. The string of epithets usually square around that most indelicate of four letter words – which I happen to use a lot in my own day-to-day shuffle – followed by charming slanders that include but are not limited to: f#@#ing (w)ag, pansy, (m)aggot, know-nothing, slug, f—er (redundant), a—hole, idiot, treehugger, bunnyhugger, leftist, commie, liberal, pussy, sap, moron – and my fave – smock-ducker. Do I have to explain that?

Here’s what I have been told at points during my three decade campaign against fighting in hockey.

“You don’t know! You’ve never played the game.”

Yes I have. In Sandy Hill on outdoor arenas when it was -30 F. I have never been so freaking cold in my life. And I have stood on Portage and Main in Winnipeg. Randy Bachman sings: “Portage and Main – 40 below!”

I found basketball when I was 8 years old. I’ve been warm ever since. I’ve been in three basketball fights. Sucker punched – all three. The guys were all ejected. But? It still freaking hurts. You know… to get laid out by a right cross. Imagine doing it for a living. Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard did just that.

Back to the chase and the apoplectic apologists.

“We need fighting to control the cheap shots and the ‘rats.’ ”

Here’s what we know about that. It never dissuaded Ken Linseman. And controlling cheap shots? That’s why they pay referees. I think. Just spitballin’ for Schlitz and Giggles.

And my favorite.

“Hockey’s a fast game and guys need to let off steam. If there’s no fighting? They’ll start using their sticks.”

Well. I’d offer an explanation. But let’s face it. That’s just batcrap crazy.

And so unfathomably stupid on so many levels that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

That line? Sounds like a conversation that Snooki and Pauly D might dipsy-doodle-dandy into on an episode of Jersey Shore.

Here’s the final “Cherryista” cringe-inducing apology for fighting in theNHL.

“No one gets hurt in a hockey fight.”

Now. I spent my summers on a ranch in the Interlake, so I’ll attempt to put this as gently as I can.

That’s the kinda’ stuff that oozes and spurts from the north side of a south-bound Bull.

“No one gets hurt in a hockey fight.”

Heard it?

Yeah. Yes you have. Me too.

Wade Belak. Rick Rypien. Derek Boogaard.

“No one gets hurt in a hockey fight.”

From The Toronto Sun:

Born in 1976 in Saskatoon, Belak began his NHL career in 1996 with the Colorado Avalanche, played three years with the Calgary Flames and spent seven seasons as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played two years with the Florida Panthers and had been with the Nashville Predators since 2008.

Known more for using his fists than stick-handling, the 6-foot-5, 223-pounder, played 549 NHL games, scoring eight goals and 33 points, racking up 1,263 penalty minutes.

Hockey fans at the Real Sports Bar expressed shock at the tragic news.

“I was … saddened,” said David LeBlank, 27. “You know how young he was and that he was well liked in Toronto.”

Leaf fan Dan Albrecht said Belak was loved during his time on the Maple Leafs.

“I never heard anyone say anything bad about him,” said Albrecht. “He was an enforcer, but to get to the NHL, you have to have skill … It’s a tough job.”

Other NHL enforcers who died before their time, include:

– Canadian-born John Kordic was 27 when the Quebec Nordiques player died Aug. 8, 1992 from lung failure and a heart malfunction after overdosing on drugs and being involved in a struggle with police at a motel in Quebec City.

– Windsor native Bob Probert, 45, suffered chest pains while boating with family on Lake St. Clair on July 5, 2010. Retired from the Chicago Blackhawks, his career was clouded by a prison term for cocaine possession, terms in rehab and an on-ice reputation as one of the Bruise Brothers.

– Former New York Rangers player Derek Boogaard, was almost 29 when he died May 13. Called the Boogeyman and Mountie for his reputation as a fighter, the Saskatoon native was voted second most intimidating NHLer. His death was ruled accidental. A medical examiner determined he consumed a lethal mix of alcohol and oxycodone.

– Born in 1984 in Blairmore, Alta., Rick Rypien, spent the last six seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and was due to start with the reborn Winnipeg Jets this fall, after signing a $700,000 deal. His death at home two weeks ago, on Aug. 15, was ruled a suicide.

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