Former Maple Leafs Enforcer Wade Belak was found dead at an upscale hotel and condo complex in Toronto. It has been ruled an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. Belak is the third unfortunate death of NHL enforcers this summer and will leave many with a heavy heart around the NHL world. Belak was working for a radio station in Nashville as recently as last week and was scheduled to be on Battle of the Blades this upcoming season according to the Miami Herald.
Belak tweeted last week that his body was killing him after his first practice for the reality show saying he went a "few rounds with Mel Gibson." More news may come available from this sad event in the coming weeks, but one can only imagine the pain his body felt with the wear and tear of 1263 penalty minutes. Belak's death followed that of Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien this summer. Boogaard passed after a lethal combination of oxycodone and alcohol and his brother has since been arrested. Rypien's death was an apparent suicide.
Vancouver GM Mike Gillis is hoping to work toward improving player's well-being and the battle against depression, which leads to the bigger question of should the NHL front office take a stand? It is said any of these gentlemen passed away and unfortunate that it took this for the discussion to reach a fever pitch. Regardless of the money they make, athletes take a physical and mental beating. It is time to pay attention to the player outside of the game. Wellness programs that expand beyond training, health education, and dedication are necessary to help athletes when they are not playing. Evaluations from psychology experts would be very beneficial. Obviously this could take some time, but now is the time to act swiftly.
As a quick side note, can we all agree not to have the urge to break the news first when something like this happens?
Do we really want "media outlets" to be how a family finds out about tragic events? Yes there could have been delay from the proper agencies in getting the news to the family, but this is so unfortunate.
You could say that this is using death to bolster an argument, but I am a silent minority who has been wishing for more work outside of the game for years. Why? I was diagnosed with a mental illness when I was 18 and had struggled with it years before the diagnosis. Just this past week I had a relapse and have been struggling a bit since. It may not be related to sporting events although I can think of at least two times I was concussed under current definitions. So whether these deaths occured from mental illness or constant aches, something needs to be done on a larger scale.
So please understand the passing of Belak, Boogaard, and Rypien are much more sad than the lack of an all-encompassing off-ice program in the NHL. Unfortunately we tend to be more reactionary. Time to let Mike Gillis take the lead and make this happen NHL.