The NHL family lost a well-liked member today with the death of Wade Belak. The tributes began to pour in as former teammates, coaches, general managers, and others struggled to deal with the shock of Belak's sudden and shocking passing. Belak was slated to be a participant on CBC's Battle of the Blades as well as starting his own radio show in Nashville with Clear Channel. He had seemed to have parlayed his outgoing personality and sense of humour into a commentating future after hockey.
And then, for reasons we may never understand, he took his own life.
Not knowing the answer to why tragedies like these have happened and accepting that emptiness is not something that people handle well. Immediately, some saw it as part of a larger pattern that included Rick Rypien's passing, Derek Boogaard's death, the physical toll of fighting in the NHL, and the failed efforts of the NHL and NHLPA to provide support to players in need. Former NHLers on Twitter were forthcoming in expressing both the difficulty in moving on after finishing one's career and the sense that the NHLPA does not do enough to help players cope with a new reality that has seen the culmination of their life's work pass:
Ur entire life is dedicated to hockey and then one day it's all over and ur kicked to the curb! And the NHLPA does nothing to prepare u. Depression and heartache doesn't discriminate! Money doesn't = happiness. Job loss is terrible but I'm just airing an athletes view.
tyson isn't asking for sympathy but it is tough to be cast aside after being put on a pedestal.it is a tough job and some aren't Prepared for life after. Very very tough. Nhlpa should do better job of preparing to enter league- and departing it! FACT. This isn't on the league. We all know we r a piece of meat and cast aside when we r done but nhlpa should prepare guys more!!
People think sports, and most just see a lifestyle. It is really hard mentally and physically. Especially hard when your done. When your done, your left to let ponder, what do I do with, myself now? Tough to ponder... More needs to be done to ease the transition. I was talking about my own exp. In this econ, there s alot of people who have lost jobs and have been forced to transition. Never easy.
Derek Boogaard had sought help under the league's substance abuse program while Rick Rypien battled depression for over a decade and the trigger for Wade Belak's death is far from known. Could these players' past as frequent fighters have had an impact? It's possible. Georges Laracque is just the latest to speak out about the impact of fighting on his psyche and body. Even in cases like Rypien and Belak where they professed no recorded history of concussions it's not out of the question that something that can go undiagnosed could have been a factor. Add in professional sport's warrior code and it's hard to rule out the possibility that it had a discernible impact out of hand. Especially since we are coded to look for patterns and explanations and strive to find a solution to prevent the possibility of repeating a summer filled with tragedies.
Unfortunately, sometimes these things happen for reasons completely out of our control. Loser Domi and Scotty Wazz wrote extremely personal and revealing accounts of the difficulties of living with depression that highlight just how difficult it can be to reach out and try to get help. Depression itself is so poorly understood with possible help being hit and miss that when you add in the macho culture of professional sports you begin to understand how difficult identifying and supporting these athletes can be.
Sports Illustrated's Pablo Torre recently highlighted how depression transcends sports and their athletes' backgrounds. While trying to connect these tragedies to fighting is our natural human tendency we can do a disservice to a serious problem that impacts the entire strata of society. The challenges and stresses that you or I face are at least partly different from professional athletes but their impact on all sufferers of depression is poorly understood and often too easily hidden from others.
So while we debate whether these tragedies were impacted by Boogaard, Rypien, or Belak's role in a physical sport or if there is more that can be done for those that suffer from depression or whether there is something sickening about the Belak family learning about his passing through media reports or even the appropriateness of broadcasting the manner of his death let's not lose sight of the most important thing that came out of today. Numerous people have lost a friend, a wife has lost a husband, and two young girls have lost their father. Sadly, we may never know why but hopefully they'll find comfort and support in each other. As fans, we may not have had a personal connection to Belak but we'll always have great memories of the gentle giant.